Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Cosmological Death-Drive; Enlightenment and Extinction, Part 11

Ride the death drive. An organic experience of entropy.

In opposition to Deleuze and Heidegger's ontologies, Brassier casts Nietzsche's will to power reappropriated as the will to nothing which we discussed in the last post. The will to nothing becomes extended and more specific through Freud's concept of the death-drive found in his groundbreaking work Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Brassier will want to extend the concept of Freud's death-drive into a cosmological framework, meaning an explanation of how organic life always tends towards it's entropic and non-organic nothingness. It's an extension of Freud's original concept in the sense that Brassier will find exact scientific phenomena to represent the death-drive beyond being, most specifically in the suns incineration roughly 4.5 billion years from now. First though, I think it's important to understand Freud's concept of the death-drive and Brassier does this wonderfully. We won't be understanding Freud on our own terms as if we had more authority to speak on the subject than Brassier (even if we did). Instead, we will let Brassier speak for himself regarding the concept of the death-drive. This will help us understand the initial concept of the death-drive and will also help is in understanding this concept within a cosmological context. The concept of the death-drive is one of the most important philosophical insights of the 20th century. It's something that confounded Freud before and during the Beyond the Pleasure Principle text. Freud though was never someone to stop a reduction when in the process of understanding anything (which makes him more of a philosopher than a psychoanalyst.) The understanding of the death-drive within the context of ontology will serve as the grounds for understanding it through the context of cosmology. Only when we can wipe away our teleological presupposition of vitalism can we come to grips of the sense of the death-drive concept. Brassier will help us with Freud, and then we can fully understand the farther reaching extension of arguably Freud's most important work.

"The phenomenon that motivates Freud's investigation in Beyond the Pleasure Principle is that of traumatic neurosis. The latter gives rise to a 'compulsion to repeat,' wherein the sufferer compulsively relives the traumatic incident in his or her dreams. Yet if the function of dreams is primarily that of wish-fulfillment, in conformity with the pleasure principle, which strives to maximize pleasure- where pleasure is defined as a diminution of excitation - and to minimize displeasure - where displeasure is defined as an increase in excitation- then traumatic neurosis poses a problem for psychoanalysis because it resists explanation in terms of the pleasure principle: why is the patient compelled to relive a shatteringly unpleasurable experience?" When Freud confronts traumatic neurosis in his patients, he's confounded by the fact that the patients repeat the traumatic event(s) that happened to them. This is at odds with what Freud preliminarily called the "pleasure principle," which simply put means that beings are driven to pleasure. What beings are driven towards in this classical concept of the pleasure principle is fulfillment of wishes. Beings wish and hope things for themselves and the pleasure principle defines beings in terms of the drive to attain the things they ideally wish and hope for. They are driven by their dreams. It's important to understand more specifically how Freud understood pleasure. Pleasure was firstly the drive to attain ones wishes. But more specifically, it was the "diminution of excitation" and an "increase in excitation." So contrary to the idea that pleasure would mean that one would be overly excited, pleasure is the diminution of excitation. In other words, the more placid one would be would signify a more maximal state of pleasure. This is important to highlight because it can be seen that someone who's overexcited is ostensibly experiencing "pleasure," whereas for Freud, this anxiety was neurotic and not pleasurable. That being said, how come patients were reliving their traumatic experiences not only in their dreams, but in their non-dream states where images would float into someones mind of the traumatic experience. Why was there a temptation and curiosity to relive something that was painful? In general, how is this perversity possible (How is a fetish possible?)? If Freud's patients, and anyone in general relives traumatic events either in dream states or non-dream states, then how much of the pleasure principle is really a principle? This is what leads Freud to write Beyond the Pleasure Principle and give an answer to the repetitive acts of trauma in his patients. Brassier writes, "Freud's answer is that through this repetition, the psyche is striving to muster the anxiety required in order to achieve a successful binding of the excess of excitation released by the traumatic breaching of its defenses." The psyche of the patient then is driven to continually allow anxiety to enter into their psyche in order to successfully bind to the original excitation of the traumatic event. The psyche is driven to equal the anxiety that was originally caused by the traumatic event. The psyche is driven to match the anxiety of a traumatic event. Why does it do this? "The compulsion to repeat consists in an attempt on the part of the unconscious to relive the traumatic incident in a condition of anxious anticipation that will allow it to buffer the shock, thereby compensating for the impotent terror that disabled the organism and staunching the excessive influx of excitation brought about by a massive psychic wound." The patient then repeats the traumatic event in their mind to "buffer the shock" of another hypothetical traumatic experience of the same kind. By repeating a traumatic event in ones mind, any new traumatic event won't be new to it. The patient will already have something in their own mind that they have experienced over and over again by the neurotic repetition of anxiety that drives to equal the hypothetical future traumatic experience. Any future experience of trauma will be staunched because the patient has relived the anxiety of trauma so much that the actual experience of trauma will be nothing new. The patient then is always in a state of anxiety anticipating a traumatic event. The patient can't know if the traumatic event will happen again or not. All that matters to the subconscious mind of the patient is that something traumatic has happened and could happen again, and the patient believes the traumatic event will happen again. If they didn't, they wouldn't hold in anticipation for something they know wasn't going to happen (just because it happened before). "The excessive influx of excitation brought about by a massive psychic wound" will be matched by the subconscious repetition of anxiety it knows will happen to itself, even though it may very well never happen again in reality. They key for the subconscious is to buffer shock specifically. Shock is the traumatic experience. Anxiety is a diminutive form of shock. It's a livable form of shock. One will never be shocked if they're always in a state of anxiety. If the subconscious keeps repeating the anxiety of a traumatic event (a trace of the traumatic event), no shock can happen to it because it constantly keeps shocking itself in smaller, more livable degrees than the initial shock that happened to itself. But for however much shock is buffered by the subconscious repetition of anxiety, this repetition of anxiety is anything but the pleasure principle. If the pleasure principle is defined as the diminution of excitation, then the drive to relive a trace of a traumatic experience is not a pleasurable drive. It's not a pleasurable drive to keep exciting oneself into small states of anxiety. If the preliminary concept of the pleasure principle given by Freud was to be an axiom for the operation of the subconscious, then the subconscious would simply forget about a traumatic event, and wouldn't feel the need to relive it in small states of anxiety in order to staunch massive excitation caused in a shock. The subconscious would say to itself: "because it happened once, doesn't mean it will happen again." If the subconscious said this to itself, it would do the opposite of repeating a traumatic event. It would end the traumatic event in the assertion that one event doesn't mean that the same exact event will happen again, or even more simply, that one event doesn't cause another event. In Freud's thought in Beyond the Pleasure Principle though, the subconscious is overwhelmed by the wound of the traumatic experience to rationally be able to reason with itself. It's here where the rationality of conscious life can take hold of the subconscious' death-drive proclivities by consciously reasserting to oneself that "I will always be shocked by something." This negates the subconscious drive to relive a traumatic experience in order to buffer a hypothetical future one because one is always constantly aware that something "shocking" can happen. Instead of constant bubbling anxiety, there's an acceptance of the constant possibility of traumatic events. Shocks will come and die away. In this sense, conscious life is retraining the ostensible function of the subconscious defined in Freud's death-drive to accept shock as something that will always happen, instead of letting one shock fester to shield from a hypothetical future shock. This is a digression from the post, but something I will want to explore later.

Brassier states "If the death-drive qua compulsion to repeat is the originary, primordial motive force driving organic life, this is because the motor of repetition - the repeating instance - is this trace of the aboriginal trauma of organic individuation. This death-drive understood as repetition of the inorganic is the repetition of the death which gave birth to the organism - a death that cannot be satisfactorily repeated, not only because the organism which bears its trace did not yet experience it, but also because that trace is the marker of an exorbitant death, one that even in dying, the organism cannot successfully repeat." Here we find the move from the death-drive understood in Freud's sense to the death-drive understood through the framework of Deleuze's concept of repetition that grounds everything. In the psychoanalytical patient, we saw the drive to constantly repeat trauma that put them in a constant state of anxiety, working against their own ostensible "pleasure principle." With Brassier (with the help of Deleuze's meticulously detailed account of repetition in Difference and Repetition), we find the cosmological context for the death drive as the repetition of death. The psychoanalytical patient had a subconscious that repeated the anxiety of trauma that would lead towards its death, not towards its pleasure. The organic in general is driven by a repetition of death just the same way. In this sense, the subconscious classically understood is analogous to the cosmological repetition of the inorganic. The inorganic constantly repeats itself, thereby creating nothing. But this repetition of death "gave birth to the organism." The inorganic constantly repeats itself, and in doing so, creates constant nothings, one of them being what we call the "organism." Being is a "form" of death. It's one that has been repeated, and one which we see with the same functions in our own species. But this death can't be repeated. The death that happened where we are the trace of that death is not something that we can say was the cause of us. Nor can we go back and live any death in general, because being (as idea) has no access to the death-event. This "exorbitant death" is beyond the bounds of reason and image. It's non-symbolic and non-causal. Again, we have to let Laruelle's concept of "unilateral duality" simmer to fully appreciate the non-correlative aspect of identity without difference, and "process" without causality. Even our experience of dying which once thought itself able to ground death can't discover the repetition of death. As we stated in a prior post, the anticipation of dying is at an absolute distance from pure death. We are the trace of a death, not the death itself. If nothing happens, and something is a "form" of nothing, then this "form" is not nothing, nor can this "form" repeat nothing. The organism cannot repeat the death-possibility that breaks nothing. At the very most, we can say with Brassier that this "repeating instance - is this trace of the aboriginal trauma of organic individuation." The trauma of individuation; this concept of the repetition of death is but a trace of inorganic repetition. To speculate just a little further in somewhat of a sporting interest, we can say: "Something had to live to be able to die."

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