Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Writing as the Origin of Memory; Part 4 of Freud and the Scene of Writing

Towards the end of Derrida's text on Freud we come to the thrust of the substance. It's the interplay between Writing and Memory. In the classical sense, writing is always a technique subservient to memory, an "external, auxiliary technique of psychical memory which is not memory itself". Freud considers writing as such in an analogy between writing and memory. To full bear the weight of this analog, let's state Freud's analogy.
"If I distrust my memory-neurotics, as we know, do so to a remarkable extent, but normal people have every reason for doing do as well-I am able to supplement and guarantee its working by making a note in writing. In that case the surface upon which the trace is preserved, the pocket-book or sheet of paper, is as it were a materialized portion of my mnemic apparatus, the rest of which I carry about with me invisible. I have only to bear in the mind the place where this "memory" has been deposited and I can then "reproduce" it at any time I like, with the certainty that it will have remained unaltered and so have escaped the possible distortions to which it might have been subjected in my actual memory"
This is one of Freud's more simple phrases in his theoretical work. I can remember what I want by making a note of it. What is in my memory is possible because of a surface, a slab, which can be imposed upon so a memory is not lost. Firstly, a trace, working as a memory, would not want to be forgotten which would lead to it's archivization. In this case we are working with a "sheet of paper", a material, which is a portion of the mnemic apparatus. This is an interesting qualification on Freud's part. The "sheet of paper", and eventually, it's analogy in the mind (whatever that may be), is a portion of an apparatus. The place for inscription whether it be material or psychical is only one part of the apparatus where the "mnemic apparatus" happens. The rest I carry about with me in an invisible way. Nothing can be said for the apparatus besides the fact that it's written. Everything that works in memory is invisible except for the material in which in which the mnemic substance is written on. It's even unnecessary to know about these invisible aspects of the apparatus. For the intention of memory is to remember something and in order to remember something, I only have to bear in mind where I wrote down what it was that I thought was important in order to go back to it. Because of the "sheet of paper", because of the material slab, I can go back to it when I want being certain that it hasn't change since I felt the compulsion to write down whatever it was that I thought was in need of having to be remembered. According to Freud, if I don't do this, then if I wanted to recall a memory, it may be distorted from the presence I'm trying to retain for it unlike what would happen if I was to revist the piece of paper where I wrote down what I felt needed to be remembered. I have a trust that in that past-present, I wrote something down in fidelity to my instinct to write something down. I wouldn't have this trust if I relied on the pysche to remember this. It would be different in the sense that I would be going back to the memory with the present activity of a memory rather than going back to a memory with the present activity on relying on a past-present. The distinction here is crucial; that is between the present and the past-present, and in this analogy, the idea of the past-present is privileged over the present as a technique for memory. Actually this is very phenomenological and the parallels between Freud's theoretical work and Phenomenology is something worth examining. However, Derrida makes the crucial point that everything can't be remembered bursting the bubble from the metaphor of the psychic apparatus as something that is able to "indefinitely preserve" while having the capacity for an "unlimited capacity for reception". Here is where Derrida separates himself from Freud whether he knows it or not in a very conspicuous way. It's not in the "indefinite preservation", but Derrida's insistence, the project of his lifetime, in showing the finitude in thought, in this case as the impossibility for an "unlimited capacity for reception". "A sheet of paper preserves indefinitely but is quickly saturated. A slate, whose virginity may always be reconstituted by erasing the imprints on it, does not conserve its traces". This is Derrida the thinker here. A sheet of paper, a memory, if we are to follow the analogy faithfully is able to preserve something indefinitely, but it's not close to the "whole" of whatever it was that is trying to be preserved. It's is very Derridean to say "but is quickly saturated". Why is it very Derridean? The thought of receiving a memory and having it come to memory by remembrance is enough for Freud and even Husserl, but this memory that comes to you is not what happened in some present time, and it's not enough to say that something can back to you. For Derrida, what actually happened in the content of a memory is not what actually happened because it doesn't fully and "purely" fulfill what this "present" would be. It's here that we realize that Derrida doesn't operate in probabilities, but instinctively in "purity" and "nothingness". Any accusation thrown at him for his apparent relativistic attitude is at his burden of bearing "purity" on the weight of his shoulders. You can think to yourself how quickly a piece of paper was written on by Derrida during his readings, to the point where he had no other place to write. You can think to yourself of Derrida being out somewhere and something coming to his head and seeing him trying to write down everything he possibly can on a small notepad and not having enough room from his thoughts. What we can go back to indefinitely can never hold everything that could possibly be held from that time. Or maybe, for some of us it can, but for Derrida it can't. Or maybe, for us it can't and Derrida is letting us know it can't even though we are satisfied in our unfilled memories, because we don't recognize that they aren't unfulfilled. We don't recognize them as not telling the whole story. Maybe, Derrida has a problem with us being satisfied in not remembering the whole story. The pretension for going back to memories as some sort of essence to existence maybe tacky to him. A slate, a piece of paper which may always lose its virginity by erasing imprints on it. Not only can a piece of paper become quickly saturated, but the piece of paper can have its inscriptions erased by an eraser. So not only can we not detail an entire past-presence because of the enormity of the task, but whatever is even written on the writing pad, on the slab, can always be erased leaving erasure marks on the pad. If there's something in the memory that I wrote down that I wanted to remember, but for one reason or another, I don't want to remember it anymore, I can erase what was written. See the analogy? Just as we can erase something written on a paper with an eraser because we don't like what was written, we can erase something on the mystic writing pad of the psyche by erasing it because we don't like parts of what we remember. What is the "lesson" here? You have no "pure" recollection of the past because, just like writing, we will erase whatever we don't want to see. Anything that bothers us will be erased from our mystic writing pad just like how I will erase anything from this post that I don't want to be seen. Writing, tells us that much...everything that's not written. And it's not just "things I no longer want to be seen", but things that simply aren't essential the recalling of a memory. Just as I will find it impossible to tell you everything that I want to tell you now, it will be impossible to recollect everything that happened in some past-present. In some past-present, because by the purity that Derrida wants to give this hypothetical situation, it will always remain impossible. Derrida tries to write down everything on a piece of paper but it soon becomes saturated. Unsatisfied in not being able to tell the story he wants to tell, the whole story, he can erase it out of discomfort of not being able to tell the story with all of the details that are involved. Derrida's insecurity is not our insecurity. I find it rare to come across people who are dissatisfied in telling stories because they can't tell all the details. Other people are secure in not knowing that they are not telling a whole story. They are OK with it, because they don't know about it. But Derrida is letting us know in a sense, that it's not Ok to think of a present that really can't be accounted for. The traces of a memory are not conserved if they can so easily be erased from memory, if they can so easily be erased by a paper, if they can so easily be erased by Freud's description of the Mystic Writing Pad that at the same time can transcribe something to the slab and can "destroy what has been raising the double covering-sheet from the wax slab by a light pull". By a light pull. How easy it is to forget. How easy it is to erase. How impossible is it for their ever to be a present that could possibly be recollected. According to Freud, "If we lift the entire sheet, the writing vanishes, and, as I have already remarked, does not re-appear again. The surface of the Mystic Pad is clear of writing and once more capable of receiving impressions. But it is easy to discover that the permanent trace of what was written is retained upon the wax slab itself and is legible in suitable lights". Writing can be cleared out by an eraser, but even with an eraser, we still see something "under suitable lights" where something happened. We can still see the eraser marks on a paper and we can still see the eraser marks of the memory. Something has been erased and is not so easily defined anymore, but something did happen, something that we can't recognize anymore, but we know where something happened. Even if this is the case though, "we possess a system which receives perceptions but retains no permanent trace of them, so that it can react like a clean sheet to every new perception". The psyche system can only allow a certain amount of excitations in it's trace. And these excitations are always be erased by new excitations. What was once the semblance of an erase marked "under suitable lights" will quickly be gone when fresh perceptions enter into the perception-consciousness system. No "permanent traces" are stored in the perceptual system that is able to remember, no present is stored in this system, all that can be said is that "inexplicable phenomena of consciousness arises". In other words, the idea, the description, that something is being written onto consciousness which will be erased for new writings...on and on. Something is already being written before it's being remembered. Consciousness is already preparing itself for being written upon before anything is even received. The psychical apparatus performs the perceptual function, not the other way around. Perception doesn't come to me. I make sure that there is perception for my writing. I am a writing being. I want things transposed to me. Empiricism doesn't accidentally happen to me. If anything, writing accidentally happens to me. For Freud, "The layer which received stimuli-the system of perception-consciousness, forms no permanent traces; the foundations of memory come about in other, supplementary, systems". Any system that receives perception, any physiological, organic system, doesn't form memory. It has to come through a "supplementary system". And by this, we don't just mean another system past the perception-consciousness system, but this other system as the supplementary system itself; An otherness that adds on. An otherness that is always writing regardless of some empirical conception of a perception. If it wasn't writing perception onto itself, it would be writing something else to itself. For Derrida, "Writing supplements perception before perception even appears to itself [is conscious of itself]. 'Memory' or writing is the opening of that process of appearance itself. The 'perceived' may be read only in the past, beneath perception and after it." I'm not aware of myself until I write myself. Perception doesn't hold a privileged place of presence where something happens independent of being written. If there was no writing, if there was no transcription onto something called "memory", I would have no perception. I would not have this originality that I seek after, this "purity" that can't speak for itself but must always be in silence, or elaborated on phenomenologically speaking by language as a "mere mode of sense". An "appearance" doesn't come to me. I write it to myself. Only after writing writes perception can I read the "perceived". Memory comes about not because of some external "reality" that is imposing itself on me which is forcing me to remember things, but because there is a system in me that likes to be additional in general. Within me, there is something that would like to write something and this manifold system of writing is imposing itself on me to find something to write about. That it happens to find something called "perception", is the work of Writing; the Writing that takes something in order to be remembered as a trace, that will be spaced for another trace that it's actively seeking, to eventually forget any idea of an "original" trace that it never had. An operation, never a founding.

No comments:

Post a Comment