Friday, April 13, 2012

Beyond Freudian Identification

In my last post I attempted to work through a concept of the rhetorical wrangle as the oscillation inherent in Burkean identification. For Burke, only when identification is seen as being both unification and division can it also be seen as the foundation of rhetoric. Complicating matters, Diane Davis’s work in Inessential Solidarity points to a cover-up in Burke’s definition. Placing Burke’s identification in comparison with Freud’s, Davis discovers that what is left out of Burke is any notion of a non-symbolic identification even though Burke calls for his subject to be divided (between self and other) before existing in any social relations.

On the other hand, for Freud, as Davis reads him through Borch-Jacobsen, there is a suggestiveness that cannot be accounted for when a subject is hypnotized. Suggestion, here, is best understood as an indirect persuasion. As Davis puts it, “Unlike political persuasion, suggestion is an improper rhetoric, a bastard form that induces action (or attitude) without properly persuading, a directly suasive ‘discourse’ that defies the presumed distance between self and other, evading cognitive discretion and so all possibility for deliberation” (33). For Freud, suggestion is dangerous, leading him to reject it as a form of analysis. Instead, as Davis informs us, Freud trades in the analyst’s suggestions in favor of the patients “free-associations.” However, Freud finds himself going back to hypnosuggestion to later explain group formation as a form of such suggestion—where members, before identifying as a group, identify with a leader, a father, a fuhrer (31). Suggestion exposes, then, a type of identification that is not produced by and from the self, but instead is issued by an other.

Following Davis just a little bit further, what we find in Freud is that in relation to alterity identification is at a loss. Identification fails to wholly signify the self in response to this other. And, as Davis remarks, “It is not in identification, but its failure, in the withdrawal of identity, that I am exposed to my predicament of exposedness and become capable of demonstrating concern for another finite existent” (35) The originary other that splits the subject from it’s self for Burke, is for Freud “a surplus of alterity that remains indigestible, inassimilable, unabsorbable” creating a negative, a lack that is also a surplus (34). But since, as Davis reminds us, there are no negatives in nature for Burke, what are we to make of this remainder that is not part of the symbolic?

Sadly, this is where we must break from Davis, not out of disagreement but out of necessity. For Davis’s work opens a door that we must now step through. By pointing out a non-symbolic form of identification that revolves around this non-signified other, Davis ends her discussion of Burkean identification by stating that:
[W]hat Burke censored in Freud—consciously or unconsciously—is the possibility that no flex of reason, no amount of proper critique, can secure the interpersonal distance on which Burke had pinned his hopes. According to Freud, an affectability or persuadability operates irrepressibly and below the radar of the critical faculties. (35-6)
It is the goal of the next post to explore the nature of this operation that is “below the radar” of symbolic action. In order to do this, I will have to move beyond Freud and into Lacan.

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