Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen reads the primary issues of 'Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego' as arising out of the problematic of the relation between self and other. On the one hand, this problematic is a trick: it presupposes the subject as a self, that is, as already constituted and separate from the other such that relation (in the strict Freudian sense) cannot arise; on the other, this very questioning preserves and protects the subject insofar as it posits it, is premised on it. Shouldn't we think, rather, of a primary sociality that precedes the ego as well as the other--"a mass-ego, a primordial crowd" (133)?
Freud has already implied as much when he observes, in the close of "On Narcissism," that the ego ideal has a social side: "the common ideal of a family, a class, or a nation." Yet we know that insofar as he continued to presuppose an ego, even one that could form itself, he displaced the problem of the group elsewhere (even as it continued to distort his analysis). He returns openly to it in "Group Psychology." Since Freud is heavily indebted to LeBon--quoting pages and pages of his The Crowd, B-J begins with LeBon.
B-J describes LeBon in terms that make clear the proximity between LeBon and Freud. First, both read symptoms as pathological returns to a previous state (so, origins are revealed in symptoms). Second, the crowd is the buried truth (symptom of the social/political): "beind 'people' there lurks the crowd and 'primitive communism' (135). Third, the crowd reveals the 'unconscious substratam' that all its members have in common (something like a racial unconscious, although I think this is better understood simply as belonging: the crowd displays our fundamental nature as belonging. This common basis enables Freud to appropriate LeBon (blurring their respective terminologies);
the crowd is impervious to contradiction, to logical argumentation; credulous, it knows neither doubt nor degrees of conviction; it cannot be restrained, for it tolerates no lapse between desire and its realization, to the point of being careless about its own preservation; the only reality it recognizes is psychic reality (image, illusion, the 'magic word) . . . It seems, then, that at the end of the enumeration the matter is settled: crowd psychology is nothing but the psychology of the unconscious ... The unconscious, in other words, is the archaic group, sociality or collectivity. (And the only question left is in what sense the unconscious is [the] collective. 137
So, it is collective in the sense of common to individuals (and so still within an individual psychology) or is communal or trans, exceding the boundaries of 'individual', or is it prior to this very boundness? And, if we are talking here about prior collectivity than in what sense can we say it: this only repeats for us the problem of the subject or ego; we presuppose a unity.
The crowd, though, is not a unity; it has no identity of its own. B-J notes that LeBon insists that a crowd 'is based not on a common ground but on the absence of any 'subjectal' ground.' Crowds are accumulations from different causes (even if this accumulation is underneath or prior to his odious 'racial soul'). They have, then, a set of new characteristics: sentiment of invincible power, mental contagion, suggestibility. We should note that these are strange characteristics, clearly of disanalogous types--a feeling, a process, an attribute. Also, B-J observes that the latter two disrupt any thing of the crowd as some kind of closed entity in that contagion could designate a process that flows through the crowd, that produces a crowd, or that comes into the crowd from without. Suggestibility is similar: it could designate internal as well as extrnal processes (suggestions from another source).
The crowd does not have an unconscious (an inherited, archaic unconscious), simply because it is not a subject or an aggregate of subjects. At the very most, the crowd may be said to be the unconscious "itself," the crowd-unconscious or the mass unconsious: neither substratumr nor substructure, but rather a soft, malleable, plastic, infinitely receptive material without will or desire or any specific instinct of its own. A matrical mass: the group as a womb. 139
I am going to look for ways to avoid this maternalization of the crowd, particularly as it evokes the idiocy of aborption in jouissance, an imaginary unity, etc. For even if LeBon (or even Freud) may admit of such a reading, later work on crowds (Rude, specifically) provide strong evidence of the rational will of crowds. Even LeBon and Freud, though, reject 'infinite receptivity,' in that they note that the crowd can resist, object, and insist. The crowd acts more like a subject that B-J wants to acknowledge. But, this is likely because his interest is less in the crowd than in the Freudian subject.
B-J's basic point regarding LeBon, then, is that LeBon's crowd is indistinguishable from the unconscious because the unconscious is for me "indissolubly nonsubjectal and 'social," members of the crowd are just "mediums" controlled by suggestion. The model here is hypnosis (totally trendy at the time). The primordial crowd lies at the origin of society and the individual. Every specific crowd is a reappearance. There's a problem in LeBon's account, though, because the crowd doesn't seem capable of giving rise to or originating anything. They depend on suggestibility, on something coming from outside them, which means, again, that they can't be an origin.
The reactionary LeBon takes another path, the way of the Leader. B-J quotes LeBon: "Men gathered in a crowd lose all force of will, and turn instinctively to the person who possesses the quality they lack." They have no will. What makes a leader the leader is the fact that he does (the feminity of the crowd and masculinity of the leader, the phallic logic at work here, is pretty crude). The leader gives form to the inchoate mass. B-J suggests that the form the leader provides it the political form as the Subject-form --and vice versa, establishing the complicity between the political form and the Subject-form: "There would be no body politic if there were not individual at the outset; and if this is so, it is because the body-politic is defined as a supra-indvidual" (145). The leader provides the crowd with its will.
What is Freud's response? He fully accepts the leader but rejects LeBon's account of suggestion. B-J summarizes Freud's critique of hypnosis: it is too violent and intrustive, too directive. Rather than allowing the unconscious to express itself by freeing it of its internal obstacles (as occurs in free association) hypnosis imprints it from without. But there's a problem: suggestibility didn't vanish from psychoanalysis. It's present under a different name: transference.
In an organicist explanation, Freud considers the nature of the tie holding members of the crowd together as Eros rendered as a combining or clustering tendency: society as a multicellular organism (Eros will ultimately be rendered as the love of each member for the leader). But doesn't this clash with the impulse underlying his critique of hypnosis? For B-J, the answer is yes. And this very tension indicates that we are dealing with the logic of the Subject.
For when Freud rises up against the tyrrany of suggestion, he is of course militating in favor of the autonomy of the individual subject. But when, like LeBon and many others, he conceives of society as an organism, he is likewise militating in favor of a collective subject or Subject-State . . . That body which is society requires a head; the organism requires a center of organization. And the group cannot set itself up as Subject except by setting up, and setting itself up as, the figure of an independent, autonomous subject taking its authority from iutself alone--hence of an authoritarian leader . . .The politics outlined here is a narcissistic politics. 157
B-J, tracing Freud's "Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego," doesn't turn directly to the problem of this Subject, this narcissistic politics. Instead he deconstructs the opposition between binding and unbinding. Ties among group members--narcissists all--are libidinal and nonlibidinal, possible and impossible, detached and attached all at once.
He also returns to identification, pulling out tensions in Freud's discussion of identification in the text. A first issue concerns the anteriority of identification to the ego--but how is identification without a model possible (part of the problem in the essay on narcissism). "The difficulty involving the formation of the ego or the birth of the subject" is "impossible to resolve within the conceptual framework of psychoanalysis." It's impossible to say which comes first--identification or object bond.
A way out: a prehistory in which the two are not yet separate, where hate-identification and object love are one and the same, "devouring identification as process of ego-formation:" "but we are not win a prehistory of the ego, in a sociality or a collectivity that precedes all individual history" 180. B-J traces this out to argue for a kind of maternal-womb, identificatory devouring. He then introduces two other kinds of identification in the text. The purpose is to show a range of options open to Freud, who himself always chooses the "Oedipal" option, which means he bypasses certain problems (particularly of origination) and undertakes various conflations and elisions. To what end? According to B-J, to preserve the Subject and Politics, 191.
The preemptory installation of Oedipus complex at the origin of the history of the individual subject is a way of short-circuiting the investigation of the subject's genesis in a pre-individual identification with the other. In this sense, it is no exaggeration to say that the Oedipal hypothesis intervenes to protect the autarchy of the subject--or, in what amounts to the same thing, the propriety of its desire (its 'feelings,' its affects, and so on)--in order to protect it against the possibility of an altration (which particularly does not mean an alienation) constitutive of its identity, its most proper 'being.' 192
The result: the subject's exemption from the question of its being (like) the other, of its being-social. As B-J points out, the wild and unexpected move in the chapter on identification is the way that social psychology appears at the heart of individual psychology. "The group is thus at the origin (without origin) of the individual." Freud, though, conceals this in the Oedipus complex. B-J's argument is thus that the Oedipus complex is a political myth of an individual subject not permeated by violence 'of a relation without relation to the other,' but instead lovingly closed in on itself.
To be sure, the Oedipal complex itself denotes a crisis "and a violent one at that." Again, B-J notes the opposition and oscillation between identification and object choice: when violence is eliminated on one side, it shifts to the other. How can hate give way to love? How does love become hate? How does rivalrous identification become sympathetic identification?
Freud takes this up in chapter 9 of "Group Psychology." The chapter rejects the herd instinct proposed by Trotter. Sociality is not natural--hostility and jealousy are. Identification, in the sense of sympathy, is necessary to put an end to rivalry. Here again, the problem: before, identification was the source of jealousy, "feeling like the other, in the place of the other, from the place of the other" 200. Now it turns into its opposite, giving rise to love, justice, a social conscience, a sense of duty. "Identification is thus both the locus of the problem and the site of its resolution" 202.
At this point, B-J turns to the leader, the relationship to which constitutes the founding bond of society. It won't be surprising to learn that Freud's account stumbles because the leader can't be understood via identification or libidinal ties (even though Freud tries to employ the Oedipal frame). Hence, Freud reintroduces narcissism to try to account for followers love for themselves in the leader. B-J asks whether, if the founding bond of the social is narcissistic, it makes sense to distinguish between narcissistic mental acts and social mental acts (as Freud does in the essay on narcissism. This suggests to me the instability of the individual, its blurring into the social. Rather than narcissism at the root of the social, the social is at the root of narcissism. Narcissism is a desperate failure at an impossible individuation.
If the leader is loved (and Freud discusses being in love in this context) this means that the ego is impoverished to the benefit of the object, which absorbs it. If the leader is identified with, this means that the object is introjected into the ego, which absorbs it. So, which is it? Freud's attempt to distinguish them in effect undermine the difference between them. One of the reasons this matters is that there has to be a difference between the bond between members and the bond between a member and the leader (without a difference, the leader is not a leader).
Freud defines the group as "a number of individuals who have put one and the same object in the place of their ego ideal and have consequently identified themselves with one another in their ego" 212. For B-J, the problem is that Freud doesn't explain the sort of bond with object put in place. Thus, B-J constructs the following possibility. "Putting the object in the place of the ego ideal means putting it in that identificatory place where the ego would like to be, but where it cannot or must not be itself". The kind of identification at work is one that is incomplete in that the other remains other; the other is inassimilable ("inimitable and uneatable"); imitation of the inimitable. The example here is the Church, where the faithful are to be like Christ (the ideal) even as they are really to put themselves in Christ's place (which would be crazy).
B-J says that the same logic is at work "The Ego and the Id" (written three years after Group Psych). The point at stake involves identification in the Oedipal complex: if the boy child identifies with his father, that would maintain his rivalry with him. How, then, can the boy child have a love bond with his father that ends the rivalry? How can the child be like but not be like his father? There is, B-J, says "an antimimetic interdiction" that forms the heart of morality:
not to identify with the other (more precisely, not to identify the other with oneself) is the only way of respecting the other as other, without doing him violence. The Law is the of the Other. It is thus, by the same token, a Law of the Subject. "Do not be like me": this is understood, positively, prescriptively, as "Be yourself," "Be original," "Be a subject." The origin of morality is simultaneously the origin of the subject, in the sense that there is no subject (identifying itself as ego through difference from the other) except a moral subject, morally instituted. The Law assigns the subject, assigns it to being. Thus would emerge from the Oedipal chaos, where all is in all and the ego in the other, a subject finally identified, identifiable, capable of entering into normal, normed, regulated relations with others/ That, at least, is what could be said if this very "subject" did not have to identify itself in order to be a subject. 217
The law can't take the form of an interdiction because there isn't yet a subject. "The law, the double law that assigns the subject, is thus stated as follows: 'Identify without identifying.' Or, more simply still: 'Identify yourself as a subject.' (I am reminded b0th of Nietzsche in the Genealogy of Morals and Hegel in the Philosophy of Right: be a person and respect others as persons. Why would there need to be an injunction to be a person?)
For B-J the issue is that of the insane core of Oedipal law, the double bind instituting the subject at the site where it submits to a law by transgressing it (and this is why the subject is always guilty). The Oedipal law "binds twice over: it bonds and unbonds the subject" 218.
B-J's writing at this point is wondrously, deliriously over-the-top, fullying enjoying the paradox of guilt, destruction, guilt, punishment, birth, and identification. Identifying in order not to identify, a veritable Escher-esque Oedipal complex where the exit is no different from the entrance. And yet I wonder if his enjoyment here may also be a kind of relief from the problem of Group Psychology --after all, he is discussing "The Ego and the Id." So the ego has a kind of separate obviousness that it lacks in Group Psychology. When he returns to Group Psychology, he does so rather flatly and simply, saying that the Father-Leader represents the ideal of crowd members, a point so obvious in the text that all the paradoxical delirium seems unnecessary, a distraction.
At this point, the chapter is almost over. Yet it feels strange and unsatisfying, moving quickly to hypnosis and then back to LeBon. The strangeness, to me, results from the disconnect between the Oedipal discussion and the return to 'the collective prehistory of humanity.' What's at stake here is the collective unconscious or the 'unconscious-as-collective' (235). "The first psychology of humanity (ours, even now) was collective" and "this 'psychology,' this thought, belonged to no subject. Being common to all (communing them), it belonged to no one."
And then: the story of the primal horde and Father-leader, killed by the sons yet narrated by the poet/genius who puts himself in the role of the Father-subject-creative genius. Who to be unique must imitate. For B-J, this is the story of Freud's egoistic dream, and ours as well. For me, it's a story of psychoanalysis as the failure of individuation, the impossibility of the individual.
Why does he not ask whether the crowd, group, collective is Subject? Here Subject would be multiple, heterogeneous, conflictual, and incomplete even as active, creative, and willful. Hypnotist-Leader-Father would be contingent, tempting, and dangerous. Guilt is falling for the lure, pretending to the image of a separateness that is not separate. Do not identify, do not be like me means do not separate, do not put the image (ego) where we are and have been.