A key line of argumentation in The Freudian Subject attempts to de-sexualize psychoanalytic theory. I appropriate the idea as follows: Freud treats the unconscious as the unconscious of a subject. This leads him to individualize it, to contain it within the individual, as we might say, an ego unconscious. But much of what he discovers can't be contained within the individual. It points to an unconscious that cannot be trapped in a scene or point, an unconscious that moves and shifts. Why is the unconscious this way? I want to argue that it's because the unconscious is a crowd; it's plural, multiple (and so the question remains: is it a still the unconscious of a subject, now understood as a collective subject? or, is it collective but not a subject?) . Freud tries various ways to repress his knowledge of this crowd. One way is with his emphasis on sexuality, which also immediately ties the subject back to others, although in a more singular way, that is, a way delimited by Oedipus. Sex is too limiting (or, in the famous line from Sid and Nancy: sex is boring).
How does Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen develop his argument? In the second section, he reads Freud's discussion of narcissism together with Freud's correspondence (Jung, Fleiss). A key issue: Freud's emphasis on sexuality, particularly in the eliding of the autoerotic body with narcissism that occurs in the correspondence with Jung. This elision is a problem. The autoerotic body is anarchic, ruptured, conflicting (70); this body doesn't merge easily into a narcissism that associates a whole, unified body with an individual, which makes the body into my own body. There is uneasiness and confusion here.
B-J argues that Freud insists on sexuality as a way to give body to narcissism. And, also, as a way to differentiate his view from Jung's even as it had blended and overlapped in a "communism of thought-sharing" in their correspondence. The emphasis on sexuality was, according to B-J, also a (re)institutionalization of "intellectual private property." The explanation of narcissism was a product of a narcissism caught up in mimetic rivalry.
B-J makes a similar argument as he reads Freud's "Psycho-Analytic Notes" together with the Freud-Jung correspondence on the topic of paranoia and homosexuality. For B-J, the issues at stake are much more those of rivalry than sexuality; Freud, however, emphasizes sexuality in the context of his own rivalrous identification with Jung. B-J's argumentation considers the "archesociality" of homosexuality in Freud's account, as well as the tension this causes for Freud's discussion of homosexuality as a threat to sociality. The discussion is intricate. For now, I want to jump to one of the conclusions:
So let us not dream, with Freud, of an ego whose existence would recede sociality (or--and it is the same thing--a sociality that would relate already-constituted subjects to each other. This would be to theorize with delusion, to speculate in line with desire. For narcissism is precisely that: the violent affirmation of the ego, the violent desire to annul that primitive alteration that makes me desire (myself) as the mimetic double . . .desire is mimetic and by the same token narcissistic, and that means that it launches headlong into a systematic, unreflective forgetfulness of what institutes it.
It follow that desire is love of oneself, as Freud writes: self-love, love of the proper. It follows too that it is organized as a vehement rejection of all resemblances, all mimesis. To recognize that I resemble the other, that I resemble myself in him even in my own desire, would be tantamount to admitting the inadmissible: that I am not myself and that my most proper being is over there, in that double who enrages me.
It follows, finally, that narcissicism is violence, and that the ego ...is a gloomy tyrant . . . Narcissism is in profound collusion with power--by which we mean tyrannical power, or put another way, political madness--by virtue of its mimetic, rivalrous, (a)social origin . . . 93-94
Affirmation of the ego is violent because it is a wrenching of the ego out of the crowd, the collective, the group of which it is a part. Or, the ego is nothing else but this wrenching, this assertion of self. And it's an assertion doomed to frustration because it depends on the very others it needs to annihilate. The horror of the ego: I am not myself.
B-J says that the violence of the ego is also present at the collective level: "the totalitarianism and imperialism of the 'we' are never anything but the supreme phase of the absolution of the ego, the "I," and they are implied in even the most solitary, most pacific meditations on the ego cogtito."
This does not mean that any collective is totalitarian, only that it risks totalitarianism insofar as they are 'the supreme phase' of the absolution of the ego. But, even in this somewhat watered down version, I wonder if B-J jumps to quickly to make the 'we' nothing but the ego bigger. That, I think, is too fast, particularly given his focus already on the dilemmas of sociality.
I've been reading this in order to get at the primacy of collectivity and a sense of collective desire. At this point, I am afraid that one of the costs of this direction is that the desire at work is violent. The violence, though, I think is the violence of the assertion of the ego. It's a product of mimesis, the operation that let's desire be as the desire of a subject even as it undermines the subject itself; or, desire insofar as creates and threatens an ego.
Fortunately, I think, the chapter ends in a way I need it to: primary narcissism is a myth, present only as already crossed out (101). Or, in my language, it's a symptom of the problems Freud is having enclosing the unconscious or accounting for the emergence of a subject as an ego.
That the subject emerges in and through a primordial fiction is what Freud has been saying from the outset, from the moment he declared ... that 'something' has to form the ego. This has to mean that the ego is nothing--not even amorphous matter, not even a 'fragmented body'--prior to such a formation, prior to such a 'creation.' Thus we have no business speculating about the nature of the ego, the subject, the Narcissus complex, any more than we may presuppose any sort of property or subjective identity. Such identity will always be apocryphal and fictious (but its falseness can no longer be truthfully expressed), inasmuch as there can be no subject except one that is initially modeled on or modeled by (here we have no way of distinguishing activity from passivity, spontaneity from receptivity) something that 'precedes' it. 116
In the beginning were others. We weren't among the others; I wasn't one among them. I emerge from and out of them and the I that emerges will always be to an extent false, fictious, imaginary (B-J, though rejects Lacan's account of the imaginary because 'in the beginning there is no one to see anything at all;' this doesn't seem to me to be necessary because I think they are talking about different stages).
And can we apply this to thinking about a political subject? Perhaps when we note the blurring of active and passive, spontaneous and receptive.
Back to B-J: his point is that Freud's early arguments presuppose the ego and the arguments in the narcissism essay attempt to solve this problem but fail (resulting in an essay that is unreadable). His very language breaks down.
if the ego is not 'present from the outset,' if it is nothing prior to accepting in (and as) 'itself' a form that comes 'from without,' it follows not only that the relation to the object (to the other, to the 'non-ego') is primary, but also and especially that this first relation cannot have been a specular relation, nor even, ultimately, a relation at all.
The ego can't emerge by looking because that assumes that there is something that is looking; it can't emerge via an object relation, because that assumes a separate ego that can be in this relation.
Where the ego forms itself in the image of the other, where it mimes the other, one can no longer speak either of 'form' or 'image,' either of 'self' or 'other.' Where the id was (neither himself nor myself), the 'I" arrives. And the id can no longer be expressed in the language of the visible, of perception, of phenomenality, nor, by the same token, in any sort of theory of models and images. The other stage becomes a beyond-stage, a fore-stage of the primary mimesis. 118
Freud's attempts to explain the ego ideal and ideal ego, whether via introjection and internalization or projection flounder on the same problem: positing an ego before the one the origins of which he is trying to describe. Freud only 'solves' the problem by shifting it to another level.
How are we to explain that an ego (fragment) assimilates (itself) (to) the other and thereby forms itself? That it begins by incarnating (itself) (as) voice, law, ideal? That it emerges by incorporating (itself) (as) voice, law, ideal? That t emerges by incorporating (itself) (as) the other, the object? These are inevitable, and inevitably hopeless, questions, as long as continue to posit a preformed, ready-made ego. For it is not clear why such an ego would need to identify itself, even "partially," with an ideal imposed from without, or why it would desire to submit to the law that imposed imitation. If the subject is "at the beginning," why would it subject itself? 124
As B-J explains, this the problematic of the second topography Freud introduces in the 1920s:
How can we conceive of that strange figure of an ego that forms its ideal in its own image and forms itself in the image of its ideal, that projects itself in the ideal and introjects the ideal, that identifies the ideal with itself and itself with the ideal? 125
I think the answer has to turn on the crowd. And, the final chapter of the book thus focuses on the primal band.