Clough and Derrida


Clough and Derrida

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“His vorpal blade went snicker-snack.”

Lewis Carroll

The school of thought that includes structuralism and post-structuralism engages in what it calls “cultural criticism, a key component in which is the positing of a certain trans-individual “unconscious knowledge”, which, among other things, leads them to make assertions about the fluidity of personal identity and the invalidity of the notion of subjectivity.

Some of the names associated with this school are Jacques Lacan (1901-1981), Henri Lefebvre (1901-1991), Louis Althusser (1918-1990), Michel Foucault (1926-1984), Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995), Felix Guattari (1930-1992), Jean Baudrillard (1929 -2007), Jacques Derrida (1930-2004), all of them intellectual products of Paris, France in the years right after World War II, and certain American social scientists have followed them.

My overview of this school is that its proponents were seriously traumatized “head-trippers” for whom it was “natural” to have a very shaky relationship to the sensory processes of knowledge, and so they easily took language to be a more fundamental reality than perception—if they admitted the existence of perception at all. And so the whole body of their work suffers from dissociated personality disorder.

It was not easy for me to come to this conclusion. I am a trained ethnographer, and have published some work (Sunday Morning–Aspects of Urban Ritual. NY, The Free Press, 1977). Recently I purchased The Ends of Ethnography, by Patricia Ticineto Clough. (Bern, Peter Lang, 1998) and started leafing through it. It seemed a little weird at first, but I was not really understanding it very well. But when I came across this comment on p. 137 —“It is to urge a social criticism that gives up on data collection…”—I got stopped in my tracks. “This is not good,” I said to myself. “What is going on here? I have to get to the bottom of this.”

In the next pass at Ends, I noticed that Clough’s epistemology is entirely Jacques Derrida (with the addition of a big slice of psychoanalysis). This was not hard to do. She is a veritable Derrida clone. She cites him often and at length. There are even little touches of reference-in-passing such as the phrase “A certain way…” (Autoaffection, 6.) that mark the devotion of the true disciple.

So, it became clear to me that Ends of Ethnography is a poststructural classic. Its bibliography and footnotes contain a list of most of the American poststructuralists of the 1990s. If I was going to deal with Clough, I would have to deal with Derrida, and I knew this was a big piece. If I was going to deal with Derrida, I had to deal with Paris, France in the mid-twentieth century. I had perused 20th century left-wing French intellectuals before. I felt o.k. about the phenomenologists. But whenever I took up the Marxist-Freudian poststructuralists, I always felt stupid. I really didn’t get it. It was “weird”. It was not of my conceptual, semantic world. And after all, there were so many of them; they were so famous, they had published so many books; people spoke of them with awe; and they were French. So in my failure to understand them, I thought that it was me.

But now I felt that it was time to just suck it up and do the job. I have some lineage. Whatever their limitations, the Jesuits have high intellectual standards. Aquinas was no fool, and I felt entirely secure about Lonergan’s realist epistemology. [Bernard J. F. Lonergan, Insight–A Study of Human Understanding (NY, The Philosophical Library, 1957.)] So it was time to read once, go away, read twice, go away, read a third time, take a nap, and read again, until I got it.

So, I did that. And here we are.

Noting their dates and geographical location, it is not far-fetched at all to cast left-wing French intellectuals of the mid-twentieth century as a seriously traumatized group — brought up in authoritarian patriarchal families, survivors of World War II, Fascism, the French colonial debacle in Algeria (1955-1962) and left-wing sensibilities in France generally. If they were neglected children to begin with, a violent and chaotic adulthood finished the job of deeply disturbing their emotional lives.

Intellectuals are drawn to concepts in any case. Ideas to them are like melodies to Mozart. They are always displaying themselves in their minds. So, if you are a traumatized European intellectual of the mid-twentieth century, it is a clinically excusable temptation to be drawn to explaining politics, society and culture by the play of concepts conjured up by your imagination. The structuralist nomination of language as ultimate reality is the perfect head-trip, the perfect escape from the body—the storehouse of trauma imprints—for such. And if you are Mozartean in the ability of your brain to generate concepts–as the post-structuralists are (these are very smart people)– then you are quite likely to produce a vast array of such unverified mentations, and a school of thought that makes a serious claim to legitimacy for a period of fifty to seventy-five years.

Thus the numerous descriptions of elements of “unconscious knowledge” in post-structuralist argument are not verifiable percepts, but in fact ungrounded imaginings, or what in clinical parlance are called “hallucinations”.

Charles Tart says:

“A hallucination is a functioning of Input-Processing whereby stored information is drawn from Memory, worked over by Input-Processing, and passed along to awareness as if it were sensory data. The special label or quality that identifies the source of this vivid image as memory is missing; the quality that identifies it as a sensory stimulus is present. Depending on the type of discrete State of Consciousness, a hallucination may completely dominate perception, totally wiping out all sensory input coming through Input-Processing, or may be mixed with processed sensory data. The intensity of the hallucination may be as great as that of ordinary sensory information, even greater, or less.” (States of Consciousness.)

But if, on the other hand, the healthy composition of human knowledge is that it is embodied — characterized by insight into the flow of sensory experience, the formation of concepts (the internal word) and judgments of fact— then this seductively imaginary gloss on human activity will eventually run its course and then fade out. Meanwhile, those of us who take social thought seriously will have to stay grounded in our personal somatic state, and fight off these efforts to make us all crazy

We can preliminarily note that (a) once you detach thinking and human knowledge from the body, you doom yourself to entering an endless hall of intellectual mirrors in which nothing is stable, nothing grounded (this is precisely Derrida’s différance), and (b) the only reason for ignoring perception as a component of knowledge is to remove oneself from involvement with one’s own body. Further, this separation from one’s body is well-known in the study of trauma treatment. In fact it is one of the hallmarks of post traumatic stress disorder. It is one form of the state of psyche called “dissociation”.  In the words of Peter A. Levine (Waking the Tiger):  “Part of the dynamic of trauma is that it cuts us off from our internal experience as a way of protecting our organism from sensations and emotions that could be overwhelming. (p. 73)

The Traumatized Person.

The nature of traumatic experiences is to overwhelm the person’s information-processing resources and thus cause them to freeze. Such overwhelm is of course perceived as a threat by a mammalian entity, and research in animal ethology has established that the response to such threats, in mammals, is thoroughly programmed. The body automatically goes through the series of steps to escape or ward off the threat, and the body is physically programmed to complete these steps. When a person fails to escape or ward off the threatening stimulus, that uncompleted response sequence remains lodged in the body as a blockage in the flow of energy through its normal channels. This frozen response sequence is the essential core of trauma imprints.

These imprints have a pronounced effect on the relationship between mind and body:

For traumatized individuals body awareness can be problematic in a variety of ways. First, becoming aware of the body may be disconcerting or even frightening, sometimes triggering feelings of being out of control, terrified, rageful, panicky, or weak and helpless. Second, traumatized clients often experienced the body as numb or anesthetized. Rather than becoming overly activated by body awareness, these clients are challenged by a level of hypo-arousal that lowers their sensitivity to the body. A third difficulty emerges when body awareness stimulates thoughts such as, “My body is disgusting,” “I hate my body,” “My body lets me down,” “I don’t have a body,” “My body is dead.” [Pat Ogden et al., Trauma and the Body(NY, Norton, 2006), 199.]

Judith Herman (Trauma and Recovery, 1992) adds detail to the description

[The result] is a kind of fragmentation, whereby trauma tears apart a complex system of self-protection that normally functions in an integrated fashion. “… the whole apparatus for concerted, coordinated and purposeful activity is smashed.” (34)

…trauma may produce long-lasting alterations in the regulation of endogenous opioids (endorphins), which are natural substances having the same effects as opiates within the central nervous system. (44)

Traumatized people become adept practitioners of the arts of altered states of consciousness … dissociation, voluntary thought suppression, minimization, outright denial … Perhaps the best name for this complex array of mental maneuvers is doublethink (Orwell), “the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.” …… The ability to hold contradictory beliefs… The ability to alter perception… the ability to form positive and negative hallucinations and to dissociate parts of the personality. (87- 88)

A general term for the condition is “dissociative personality disorder”. Dissociative disorders are so-called because they are marked by an interruption of or over-emphasis on one or more of a person’s fundamental psychosomatic resources: (1) cognition, (2) emotions, (3) impulse, (4) the five sensory instruments, (5) inner body sensation. Inner body sensation is the resource that enables us to be present in our body. All of the dissociative disorders are thought to stem from trauma experienced by the individual with the disorder. The dissociative aspect is thought to be a coping mechanism — the person literally dissociates himself from a situation or experience too traumatic to integrate with his conscious self. One of the most common forms of dissociation is the interruption of sensation, or “leaving the body”. Symptoms of these disorders, or even one or more of the disorders themselves, are also seen in a number of other mental illnesses, including post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder.

The Mind of Jacques Derrida

Jacques Derrida apparently brought a very special case of dissociative personality disorder to the public discourse of philosophy in the latter part of the twentieth century. The dissociation between perception and imagination/thought admits of varying degrees. The psychopath has a complete inability to make certain distinctions in his or her experience, no control whatsoever. And this condition, if established, sends this type of serial killer to a mental institution rather than to prison, e.g., Wisconsin’s ever-famous Eddie Gein. Serial killers with an off-again on-again inability to distinguish between inner and outer experience will on the one hand lapse into complete confusion while performing their criminal acts, and yet on the other hand be capable of complete perceptual competence in planning their crimes. Forensic psychiatry says that such a person merely has “a personality disorder”, is mentally competent to stand trial, and if found guilty is sent to prison, as was the case with Wisconsin’s Jeffrey Dahmer.

Derrida was not a serial killer, but he was dangerous. He had a low-grade inability to distinguish between perception and imagination/thought, which is the same problem Eddie Gein and Jeffrey Dahmer had at a much higher level. The make-up of Derrida’s brain and the composition of his social experience apparently made it impossible for him to completely distinguish between perception and fantasy, and since he was exceptionally gifted verbally and conceptually, he made it his life’s work to attempt to impose this disability on the world at large. The extent to which he got away with it is testimony to (a) his considerable skill, and (b) the discomfort many intellectuals have with being in their bodies noetically. There might be certain basic escapist “benefits” to being an intellectual across the board

As one reads Derrida, sometimes it appears that his refusal to deal with perception in knowledge is actually a refusal to do so. But I think the inability factor is paramount, and that throughout his life he was sincere in his disability. Moreover, it is remarkable how many converts he has made to his confusion. His career is similar to the events portrayed in the 1971 movie, They Might Be Giants, starring Joanne Woodward and George C. Scott, in which the schizophrenic patient “converts” the psychiatrist to his way of viewing the world. I saw the movie long before I ever heard of Jacques Derrida, and when I did encounter him I wondered if They Might Be Giants was based at all on his activities. But the movie is based on James Goldman’s play of the same name, which was first performed in 1961, two years before Derrida made his intellectual debut in Paris with a public lecture criticizing Foucault’s Madness and Civilization on March 4, 1963.

Yet it also must be said that Derrida’s vivid imagination has indeed converted, and continues to convert to his delusional views some people who should be healthy. There are serious implications for social scientists in this situation, for a dissociative disorder dooms its victims to permanent irrelevance to history and leads ultimately to a regrettable condition of solipsism and complete isolation, if not violent acting out.

Derrida and the Epistemic Loss of the Body

The agency of the human subject and the agency of the writing technology are interimplicated; one cannot be reduced to the other. This is of course, what Derrida meant by the often misunderstood remark: “There is nothing outside the text.” He meant that there is no human subjectivity that is separable from an originary technicity, no memory or unconscious separable from a technical substrate.” [Clough, The Ends of Ethnography 1998, xvii]

There are two “things” denoted here: (a) intentional subjectivity, and (b) “technical substrates”. And as Clough notes (but apparently does not notice): one cannot be reduced to the other. Now, for the poststructuralists to denote a “fully intentional subjectivity” is a linguistic clue that even they know that it is distinguishable from all technicities, and so “originary technicity” is a misnomer. (Is the deconstruction of deconstruction as valid as deconstruction tout court?)

So, in what sense is a technicity separable, and in what sense is it not separable? Well, it is surely not separable in the mode of unreflective discourse, where language, thinking and behavior are all intimately influenced by historical, cultural, social and personal circumstances. But it is separable in the reflective activity wherein one consults one’s actual experience of knowing and notices that all of its technicities are ultimately produced by the simple act of understanding.

In a realist epistemology one notices the involvement of the body in knowledge and embraces it, and so “originary technicity” simply disappears.

To conceive knowing one must understand the dynamic pattern of experiencing, inquiring, reflecting, and judging, and such understanding is not to be reached by taking a look. To affirm knowing, one must grasp the pattern in the unfolding of mathematics, empirical science, common sense, and philosophy … and if one doubts that the pattern really exists, then one can try the experiment of attempting to escape experience, to renounce intelligence in inquiry, to desert reasonableness in critical reflection.
Knowing is an organically integrated activity: on
(1) a flow of sensitive experiences,
(2) inquiry intelligently generates a cumulative succession of
(3) insights, and the significance of the experiences varies concomitantly with the accumulation of insights;
in memory’s store of experiences and in the formulations of accumulated insights,
(4) reflection grasps approximations towards the virtually unconditioned and attainments of it to issue into probable and certain
(5) judgments of fact.”
[Bernard J. F. Lonergan, Insight–A Study of Human Understanding, 415-416. (NY, The Philosophical Library, 1957.)]

So, knowing is all this. The central act in all this is insight into sense data, or, the act of understanding. The immediate product of insight is the word. The word has structure. The act of understanding transcends structure. Furthermore, ordinary awareness grasps all this because the activity of knowing has transparency to itself. As it operates, it also reaches back to know itself knowing.

Thus, in the critical realist view of knowing, technical substrates are not “originary”, they are derived. The act of insight produces the word. Now, the word is indeed complex, but the act of insight is simple. So, “technical substrates” are “originary” only if you are a conceptualist who has some mental block that prevents you from noticing the occurrence of the act of understanding, which involves the flow of sensory experience. Sensory experience of course is due to the presence of the human mind in the human body.

The mental block that interferes with noticing the flow of sensory experience in knowing is the dissociative personality disorder. Some one who has such a disorder is a prime candidate for asserting the primacy of language in knowing. Anyone without a dissociation disorder notices the act of understanding in their knowing, and thus the origin of language and structure in insight. Ordinary awareness grasps the fact that to be human is, in fact, to be spirit-in-matter. That is just how things are.

So, the foundational assertion of Derrida’s whole philosophical edifice is the product of a psychosomatic injury:

…structure cannot be understood without understanding its genesis.[2] At the same time, in order that there be movement, or potential, the origin cannot be some pure unity or simplicity, but must already be articulated—complex—such that from it a “diachronic” process can emerge. This originary complexity must not be understood as an original positing, but more like a default of origin, which Derrida refers to as iterability, inscription, or textuality.[3] It is this thought of originary complexity, rather than original purity, which destabilises the thought of both genesis and structure, that sets Derrida’s work in motion, and from which derive all of its terms, including deconstruction.[4] [Wikipedia, “Jacques Derrida”]

The key mistake here is the assertion that “… the origin cannot be some pure unity or simplicity, but must already be articulated—complex—such that from it a “diachronic” process can emerge.” It would indeed seem “logical”, would it not, that the origin of “complexity” should be complex. But that is only if your thought process is merely moving concepts around on some flat playing surface. If your noetic process includes insight into the actual pattern of acts in knowing, then you notice that the source of complexity is in fact simple.

So, the assertion that “there is nothing outside the text” is not only just plain wrong, it is in fact the opposite of what is true, that is, that the text is just the tip of the iceberg. Derrida’s assertion only works for those who dislike the involvement of the body in the activity of knowing. Take for example the simple phrase, “Garage Sale”. Who goes in and tries to buy the building? In writing, there is always something outside the text. We call it “experience”. It is the sensory referent of meaning. It is the body.

“The text” is just the frozen product of the living and dynamic activity called “knowing”. I think of an image from the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, where they found the permanent shadow of a person imprinted on a wall by the intense light and radiation of the original explosion. The text is this shadow. Its source is the dynamism of the activity of knowing. You have to be in a pretty serious trance state not to notice that.


Everything Is Outside the Text.

Those who are familiar with Derrida’s oeuvre should not find it difficult to find propositions that manifest his rejection of sensory process in knowledge. They run through his work from beginning to end, from top to bottom, and end indeed in a regrettable grandiosity and solipsism. I think of it as “inmate rant”. But just to complete the record, I will supply some text, thus also giving an example of how, contrary to how Derrida would have it , everything is outside the text.

1. Différance.

“Différance” is of course Derrida’s quintessential neologism. The necessity of neologisms for Derrida should have warned us right away that he is engaged in something suspect. Our clinical antennae should have pricked up sharply. The guy is definitely “missing a piece”. I think the missing piece is a fundamental discomfort with embodiment itself.

I have described it as “an inability to distinguish between perception and imagination”, but it is much more than that. It would have been more honest of Derrida to have begun his discussion of différance with the invitation, “Now, let us all leave our bodies.” But he was probably not aware of that desire. And this would not have been some “methodic” departure, akin to the “methodic doubt” of Descartes, but it was and is in fact full headlong flight, having the fully-formed intention of never coming back: “Aaugh! Let me out of here! I want to be free of this cursed burden! Let me go! Let me go!” But of course the passion and the panic are never expressed by Derrida. Being the supremely accomplished inmate, he casts it all in smiling and sweet reasonableness.

Derrida is a “head-tripper”, but he was not unique in that. He was following a tradition. He traces his lineage to Nietzsche, Freud and Heidegger at least, but all the structuralists accepted the primacy of language, turning Saussure from being a linguist into being a metaphysician:

Now Saussure first of all is the thinker who put the arbitrary character of the sign and the differential character of the sign at the very foundation of general semiology, particularly linguistics. …… And, as we know, these two motifs – arbitrary and differential – are inseparable in Saussure’s view. There can be arbitrariness only because the system of signs is constituted solely by the differences in terms, and not by their plenitude. The elements of signification function due not to the compact force of their nuclei but rather to the network of oppositions that distinguishes them, and then relates them one to another. “Arbitrary and differential,” says Saussure, “are two correlative characteristics.” [Jacques Derrida, “Différance”, (trans. Alan Bass, Margins of Philosophy, Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1982, 3-27; )] (Emphasis added.)

[Well, for onomatopoeia, Saussure was obviously wrong. I think of “Aaagh!” (ag, agni) as the word for fire, and “flip-flop” in English and “chupple” in Hindi as the words for those minimalist sandals that grip the space between the big toe and the second toe. So, language is “grounded”, even the most abstruse metaphysics. Meaning has two sources, not one: “the plenitude” of signs and “the network of oppositions”. Aristotle defined “essence” as tode ti, which is merely pointing. And as for “being” [ousia] that seems to be a first-level abstraction from physical presence.]

Once you ensconce language in the role of ultimate reality, you ipso facto separate yourself from your body and make “experience” irrelevant to thought. That is, you make perception irrelevant to thought. This leads you, at every key juncture in your thought process, to bypass experience/perception, as when he asks, “What is the present? What is it to think the present in its presence?” as if the two questions are (a) one and the same question, and (b) the only relevant questions. [Derrida, op. cit.]

But these two questions are not the same question, and there are other relevant questions. For example, “What is the present? What is the experience of the present? What is the process by which the question “What is the present?” occurs in the first place? Where does that question come from?” But Derrida jumps right from “What is…” to “What is it to think…” , and that is the key evidence that he has bypassed his body altogether. No wonder then that his answer to the “What is…” question is not to shut up and replay the tape of his experience that raised it . No, he goes right to Martin Heidegger: “Let us consider, for example, the 1946 text entitled Der Spruch des Anaximander (“The Anaximander Fragment”)…” [Ibid.]

And it is of course all down hill after that.

So the structuralism of Paris in the 1960s was a thoroughgoing conceptualism that capped a tradition of dissociated thought in Europe that started in the nineteenth century. Derrida did us a great service. He carried this trend to its ultimate logical conclusion, and revealed its underlying absurdity. This helps us get out of the game. But of course, we have been slow about that.

The problem that différance addresses is the old, old one—taken up by every philosopher from Thales on—of the one and the many. If you reject the idea of actual differences—Derrida calls them “oppositional”—between individual beings (which are rooted, noetically, in their physicality) then you have to devise some other kind of difference, which is not “actual”, and has no reference to the body or any of the concepts of Western philosophy that are derived from embodiment. Derrida does this admirably:

So, différance is “the playing movement that produces the differences between signifiers” … the non-full, non-simple, structured and differentiating origin of differences. Thus, the name “origin” no longer suits it.

“Already we have had to delineate that différance is not, does not exist, is not a present-being (on) in any form; and we will be led to delineate also everything that it is not, that is, everything; and consequently that it has neither existence nor essence. It derives from no category of being, whether present or absent.”

And the standard rules of philosophical discourse are abrogated:

“What I will propose here will not be elaborated simply as a philosophical discourse operating according to principles, postulates, axioms or definitions, and proceeding along the discursive lines of a linear order of reasons. In the delineation of différance everything is strategic and adventurous. Strategic because no transcendent truth present outside the field of writing can govern theologically the totality of the field. Adventurous because this strategy is …… a strategy without finality, what might be called blind tactics or wandering…. a certain wandering [that] no more follows the lines of philosophy of its symmetrical and integral inverse, empirical-logical discourse. The concept of play … announcing … the unity of chance and necessity in calculations without end.”

So, différance is imaginary difference. We can think of it as Jacques Derrida’s imaginary little friend who helps him hold his entirely imaginary world together. But of course he cannot say that directly, either to himself or to the world. He has to justify it by something that resembles “reasoning” as closely as possible. And this is where Derrida truly excels. His conceptual artistry is amazing.

(This of course explains why some of Derrida’s critics are so angry, and why they complain of his language being obscure and confused, and pretentious. They are angry because the out-of-his-body Derrida wants to destroy the normal boundaries of reality of his audience and is doing it covertly. The accusations of obscurity, confusion and pretentiousness are just true. This is what Derrida has to do in order to escape contact with embodied thought without revealing the game to himself or his audience.)

Différance is the glue that holds Clough’s worldview together. In Autoaffection she wants to review the stream of cultural criticism of the past thirty years which includes “feminist theory, Marxist cultural studies, queer theory, postcolonial theory and the cultural studies of science, especially the new sociology of science and the criticism of ethnographic writing as textual production of the scientific authority of anthropology.” [A, 14.]

This stream of cultural criticism is thoroughly “différantial”:

It also seems necessary to … reconfigure the opposition of Being and technicity, so that nature and technology, body and machine, the virtual and the real, the living and the inert might be understood in terms of différantial relationships rather than oppositional or even dialectical ones. A, 11

Bodies are what desire produces. Grosz’s thought of volatile bodies, including but not privileging the human body, is an argument for a différantial relationship of nature and technology, body and machine, the virtual and the real. A, 13

I am instead endorsing a différantial relationship between nature and technology, the body and the machine, the real and the virtual as nonoriginary origin. A, 18.

I have found that if you substitute for “différantial ” the following trio of terms—“disembodied”, “completely imaginary”, “entirely disconnected from perception”—then Clough’s meaning remains intact and just becomes much clearer.

Clough notes that this school of thought “has signaled the need to rethink the real.” [A, 12.] as if that is some casual exercise like getting on a subway or slicing a loaf of bread. I would offer the gloss that “rethinking the real” is exactly what the paranoid schizophrenic person does when entering an acute episode, and causes him or her to come up with such divine revelations as, “Twinkies are highly radioactive.”

So, Clough’s favorite cultural critics have bought completely into the thoroughgoing out-of-body Derridean trance. This leads them to truly inmate views such as: “all bodies are virtualities … they are images in process …” and can be thought of as “…intensities in a flow of electronic images, texts and sounds, that is as imagined realities.” [A, 11.] How is this not radioactive Twinkies?

2. Lived experience.

Let us look another example of Derrida’s handling of reality.

Derrida argues that, when Husserl describes lived-experience (Erlebnis), even absolute subjectivity, he is speaking of an interior monologue, auto-affection as hearing-oneself-speak. According to Derrida, hearing-oneself-speak is, for Husserl, “an absolutely unique kind of auto-affection” (Speech and Phenomena, p. 78). [from the Stanford Encyc., Emphasis added.]

Here is the verbal “slippage” that is essential for Derrida. It is a slippage between experience and idea. When he talks about Erlebnis, he is not talking about lived-experience as such, but he is talking about Husserl’s description of lived-experience. He is already one step removed from the embodied experience denoted by the German word. So, he is not involved with Erlebnis; he is involved with the idea of Erlebnis. It almost sounds like “lived experience” is something Derrida only read about in Husserl; he never actually did it himself.

I think this becomes clearer if we apply it to anger. On the one hand, there is “being angry”. On the other hand, there can be the idea of being angry. Actually being angry is a rush of adrenalin, the opening of blood vessels, a constriction of muscle tissues, etc. It is not just somatic, but it is, and spontaneously so, psycho-somatic. However, the idea of being angry is much different. It is only a thought-process. It need not involve adrenalin, blood vessels, or constriction. There are a number of things we can do with anger. (a) We can be angry, (b) we can talk about being angry, (c) we can think about anger, (d) we can write a whole book about anger, etc.

This is what Derrida does with every human phenomenon he talks about. He takes it away from the body and makes it an imagination, in this case “an interior monologue”. This is foundational for him. He avoids perception. His imagination is vivid. He does not notice that he has replaced his body with the idea of his body. And so he engages in specious reasoning from beginning to end.

3. Auto-affection.

In the very late L’animal que donc je suis, Derrida tells us what he is trying to do with auto-affection: “if the auto-position, the auto-monstration of the auto-directedness of the I, even in man, implied the I as an other and had to welcome in the self some irreducible hetero-affection (which I have discussed elsewhere), then this autonomy of the I would be neither pure nor rigorous; it would not be able to give way to a simple and linear delimitation between man and animal.” [Stanford Encyc.]

So, this is not the embodied “I” that on occasion simply is angry. This the I-as-idea, the disembodied “I”, the only “I” that Derrida knows of. And so of course if the “I” is merely an idea in your head, then its “purity” can indeed be diluted by the implied other that it (“logically”) calls up. And so Derrida’s idea of “auto-affection” is just that, an idea of auto-affection, in which the “I” is not the immediately aware in-the-body self, but a mere “hearing-myself-speak”. And that is as close to physical embodiment as Derrida ever wants to get.

Clough also uses verbal slippage. When she gets deep into her argument. she substitutes one meaning of a word for another, without commentary, as in: “She [Elizabeth Wilson, Neural Geographies, Feminism, and the Microstructure of Cognition] fails to appreciate that the object the connectionists treat as a neural net is a knowledge object, inseparable from its technological enframement.” [Autoaffection (U. Minnesota Press, 2000.), 31.]

I also “fail to appreciate” that, because when Clough uses the term “knowledge object” she really means “imagined object”, and when she uses the term “inseparable” she really means “identical”. So, the real content of this dissociated utterance is: “She fails to appreciate that the neural net of the connectionists is identical with its technological enframement.” And in doing that, we are face-to-face with the core of the Derridean problem, its essential insanity, and our reason for failing to appreciate it.

This by the way is the only sane way to read Derrida, or Clough, or any other post-structuralist. Your reading has to be very close, with persistent attention to the slippage of all key words and phrases between a dissociated connotation and a realist connotation. This is hard work. I have only known personally a few paranoid schizophrenics, but I always experienced them as insistently disputing my boundaries of reality, and so in my conversations with them I always had to enter a special meditative presence-to-myself-in-my-body state which took a lot of energy.

Another inmate trick that Derrida and Clough always pull is that they rarely “assert” anything. They prefer to “suggest”. This is the catch-me-if-you-can maneuver of the truly traumatized, deeply dissociated victim of child abuse.

But Derrida does have the courage of his convictions and pursues his inmate reality right into the heart of the matter. He takes on the physicality of the human brain, and imagines it right out of existence. And of course, true to the inmate trick of refusing to be identified, he does not “dismiss” neurology, biology or nature, but just rather “refuses to oppose” them to culture. This approach leads Clough to make the following astonishing assertion:

There is therefore no memorized content in the nervous system. Although there is repetition, it is not remembered content that is repeated. Instead the repetition is of an impression or a trace that is only a repetition of the difference in the exertion of forces. Derrida argues that this repetition is an “originary” repetition; it is not the repetition of an original. ….. Repetition is labeled originary only to undermine the idea of an origin: “It is a non-origin which is originary.” [A, 33]

I would defer to the professional brain mapping biologists, but my sense of this utterance is that it is simply completely wrong. The opposite is true. There is memorized content in the nervous system. The “difference in the exertion of forces” that carries the “trace” is a difference in the exertion of physical forces, and when, as through the use of selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors such as Prozac or Wellbutrin, the depressive personality modifies such traces, he or she experiences relief from depression.

And I insist in asking: what in the final analysis is the difference between “not dismiss” and “refuse to oppose”?

So, Derrida and Clough are extremely clever and resourceful inmates.

Regrettably, Jacques Derrida was never noetically in his body (although he talks at great length about the idea of being in his body). And he wants to make us all that way too.

4. The possibility of absence.

Here is an example of Derrida’s argumentation about presence and absence. He is talking about whether the intention of the author is present in the mark on the printed page.

“Isn’t the (apparent) fact of the sender’s or receiver’s presence complicated, divided, contaminated, parasited by the possibility of an absence inasmuch as this possibility is inscribed in the functioning of the mark? …… At the very moment “I” make a shopping list, I know … that it will only be a list if it implies my absence, if it already detaches itself from me in order to function beyond my “present” act and if it is utilizable at another time, in the absence of my-being-present-now…” [Limited inc a b c, 48-49]

We can begin to address what is missing from this text (i.e., the seven-eighths of the iceberg beneath the waves) by reciting a little parable:

Derrida arrives at his car one day to find a gendarme writing him a ticket for illegal parking. The officer says, “Sir, your car is illegally parked.” To which Derrida replies, “Isn’t this apparent fact of the illegal occupation of a parking space by my car not complicated, divided, contaminated, parasited by the possibility of an absence of the car inasmuch as its mobility is inscribed in the functioning of its motor and its wheels?” To which the officer replies, “Sir, here is your ticket; you have a date in court.”

Both in the case of the parable and the case of Derrida’s argument about presence and absence, his commentary fails to notice one significant aspect of the situation: the sheer physicality of the car on the one hand and the mark on the other. We might call this the mark’s embodiment. Considering the sheer physicality of the mark, then, the rhetorical answer to his rhetorical question is simply, “No”. The fact of the sender’s or receiver’s presence is not in the least complicated, divided, contaminated or parasited by the possibility of an absence being inscribed in the mark, because the fact of the mark’s presence is physical, and the possibility of its absence is merely some immaterial conceptuality.

To dwell further on this curious state of affairs—without at all disputing that the possibility of absence is indeed inscribed in the mark, and that it is fully iterable, etc.—we must simply note that the presence of the mark is manifest in its sheer materiality. We are permitted to issue the judgment of fact that it is there because we can touch the paper, feel it between our thumb and fingers, smell and even, if we are so inclined, taste it. We can furthermore observe closely the mark–any alphabetical letter which is part of it will do—and notice that this black smudge on the paper is not a random distribution of molecules, but rather an orderly distribution of molecules both as to time, place, chemical composition and physical appearance. Noting the particulars of the shape of the letter, we can read from its materiality its language and complete history. If we are so inclined we can scrape off a fleck of ink and send it to a museum expert, who will tell us the date and place of its manufacture and the time and place of its imposition on the surface of the paper (or wood, or stone, or metal) in question. The full transcendent givenness of the mark is traceable through its materiality.

This includes the “transcendence” of the signifier and the signified. And of course by “transcendence” we do not mean some quality that is above and beyond mundane human activity, we simply mean it in the sense it came to take on in linguistic discussions, i.e., having its own claim to existence. For, from the fact that the mark is here, now, we can trace, through its materiality, the whole and complete history of its manufacture, and this is going to include who made it, when, and why and with what experiential connections (meaning). So, although any particular author of a written mark can be absent from it, the evidence of his or her presence at one time or other is fully loaded into the physicality of the mark.

And Derrida does not notice this. He never notices this. In the mountains of text he has produced, he never adverts to sheer physicality and its properties. So, what is the matter with Jacques Derrida? Does he not have eyes? Does he not have fingers? Can he not touch a printed page? Is he without a nose, to be unable to smell paper, ink, mimeograph fluid? He apparently does not distinguish between perception and thinking, between “outer” (perceptual) experience and “inner” (thought, fantasy, imagining) experience.

Well, Jacques certainly had all of the appendages and powers of sensory process, but he did not advert to them when he was thinking. He was, as they say, “completely in his head”. He was in this sense out-of-body. He was dissociated.

5. Clough and the body.

Since Patricia Clough is so completely assimilated to Derrida, I use a text from The Ends of Ethnography to illustrate the classic, unmarked, Derridean slippage between perception and imagination, a maneuver I sometimes call “the twist”.

Since sexual difference cannot be equated with either the masculine or the feminine sexes but only with their difference, sexual difference is always imagined; it always fractures any one-to-one correspondence between a particular anatomy and a particular identity. The body then is a surface at which perception and projection can never be entirely differentiated; the body signifies the impossibility of distinguishing the natural from the social, once and for all. [EE, 104]

In the first place not only can sexual difference be equated with the masculine and feminine sexes, perceptually; such an equation is the condition for the difference between them. In order for there to be two sexes there have to be, previously, two perceptions, much as in the case for black and white. The looking at black and the looking at white produce different nervous impulses on the retina and the brain, which in the first instance do not need to be named in order to be noticed as different. First comes the difference of percepts, and then later on, language. So, not only is “one-to-one correspondence” not “fractured” in sexual identity, it is, and must be, presumed.

Therefore it is incorrect to say that “The body is a surface at which perception and projection can never be entirely differentiated…” This is only true if you are in a Derridean trance. The body in fact is a surface at which the distinction between perception and projection is eloquently illustrated, and it does not signify the impossibility of distinguishing the natural from the social, it exemplifies its foundation.

Also note that Clough’s utterance here needs the slippage between perception and imagination in order to work. She has completely fallen into an implicit reference to the dynamics of imagination, without telling us, and without noticing it herself.

We could go on and on through the work of Derrida and Clough, closely read the text, and point out the slippage out of the body and the inmate refusal to be identified everywhere it shows up. But since that would be occurring throughout their writing, it would be a lot of work, and I think you already get the point.

This analysis leads to the conclusion that the whole history of structuralism and post-structuralism in France in the middle of the twentieth century was based on a mass case of dissociative personality disorder. This is not at all counter-intuitive, if you consider (a) that trauma is widely experienced in the normal child-rearing practices of most cultures, (b) “intellectuals” by nature engage in dissociated (“out-of-body”) thought processes, (c) dissociation has a long and constant history, including, for example, the socially significant phenomenon of gnosticism and (d) World War II and Fascism had a severely traumatizing impact on Europe of the mid-twentieth century.

These considerations also show the sterility of that whole body of discussion of the difference between the spoken word and the written word in the structuralists. (In making this distinction, Saussure was not trying to do epistemology. He was only doing linguistics.) Epistemologically, both the spoken word and the written word are just alternative technologies of expression for the purely mental word, which is their source. Thus, the primacy of speech (“logocentrism”) is actually a straw man in the discussion of human knowing.


Oedipal Logic.

Now that we have identified “originary complexity” as the product of a vivid if somewhat disturbed imagination, we can proceed to deal with the sticky morass of “oedipal logic” as it has been applied to writing in general and ethnographic writing in particular.

All through the 1980s, feminist literary critics and film critics treated the oedipus story–this struggle to separate from a symbiosis with the (m)other to become self-identified like the father figure–as a narrative logic or form of emplotment. [1998EE, xiii]

Right. And having conducted that experiment for a while, it seems they gave it up:

By the time most American academics (including feminists) came upon the French intellectual scene, their predecessors’ theories had peaked in Paris. The creators and champions of these theories had grown tired of the hidden structures that failed to emerge, especially when they realized that they were heading into blind alleys; empirical realities did not correspond to expectations. Nevertheless, Americans were intrigued by the novel promises to revive the radical movements that by then appeared to have become shopworn and uninspired. In the past, attempts to mesh the revolutionary components of Marxism with those of psychoanalysis had been rather haphazard and, in the long run, unsuccessful. [Edith Kurzweil,Freudians and Feminists (Westview Press, 1995), 192.]

But Clough is unrepentant.

I argued instead that psychoanalysis as well as poststructuralism had proposed that no subject, male or female, could be author, fully self-identified, fully aware or self-consciously intending what he or she writes. Not only does unconscious desire make a fully intentional subjectivity impossible, as psychoanalysis proposes. But the psychoanalytic account of the unconscious can be understood itself to point more generally to the technical substrates of memory or the unconscious from which human subjectivity is inseparable. The agency of the human subject and the agency of the writing technology are interimplicated; one cannot be reduced to the other. This is of course, what Derrida meant by the often misunderstood remark: “There is nothing outside the text.” He meant that there is no human subjectivity that is separable from an originary technicity, no memory or unconscious separable from a technical substrate. [1998EE, xvii]

So, there are two mistakes here. The first mistake is the poststructural mistake of “originary complexity”, according to which the “technical substrate” of “unconscious desire” is not only inseparable from human subjectivity, but not distinguishable from it. In the critical realist view, essential human agency is the paradox of spirit-inhabiting-matter, and resides in the capacity for insight. Insight is “inseparable” from the word, but it is not the same as the word. They are related as the producer and the produced. Thus, all unconscious desire, while indeed remaining unconscious, in and of itself presumes—as the condition for its very existence— the self-awareness, self-identification, and self-conscious intention of its author, whether male or female.

The second mistake is the psychoanalytic error of presuming that the only form of unconscious desire is “Oedipal”, i.e., “Freud’s description of the resolution of the Oedipus complex as finally fixing the subject’s identity in relationship to his or her parents’ desire and in terms of sexual difference” or “the reader’s and writer’s losses and failed sexual identities” (1998EE, 4).

This, again, is a foundational oversight. It is highly questionable as to whether “oedipal desire” exists anywhere outside the authoritarian and patriarchal social confines of late nineteenth century Vienna. It might entirely be merely a narcissistic fantasy of Sigmund Freud. If we consider the transition between The Aetiology of Hysteria and Freud’s later writings, we might wonder if “oedipal desire” existed even then and there. It seems very likely that, if it exists at all outside the psyche of Sigmund, it is limited to Vienna-like social situations: repressed and authoritarian patriarchal family and social structures that routinely impose massive childhood trauma of multi-faceted repression. This would make the attribution of “oedipal desire” to wider social and historical contexts doubly mistaken. In the first place, it is not general; and in the second place, it is not the only unconscious desire we need to consider.

There are actually numerous other forms of unconscious desire, much more elementary and much more free of particular social, historical and cultural circumstances. In the first place there is raw biological sexual desire, a hormonally-based emotional tension that seeks resolution in orgasm. Its workings are completely independent of any fantasy about mom or dad, and seek their fulfillment in the here and now.

Further, there is kinesthetic desire, for the expressiveness of movement and “performance”; there is auditory desire, that undergirds the impulse be involved in music; there is eidetic desire, that undergirds the activities of representational art and symbolism, and there is contemplative desire, that undergirds the interior practice of dhyana (the Japanese word for which is “zen”).

And finally, there is the “the pure desire to know”, which is most centrally at play in the discussions of science and discursive knowledge. I am calling this “noetic desire”. It resides in the innate orientation of the human mind to engage the flow of sensory experience and seek understanding. It is what I am using to write this, and you are using to read it.

(Not to mention the unconscious forces shamans call upon. Most shamans, as near as can be determined, seemed to be healthy and not suffering from mental disorders. They were integral members of their societies and often went through long periods of training to become adept, all of which argue against any sort of pathological component to their craft. The shamans of the far north rarely, if ever, used hallucinogenic plants, relying instead exclusively on self-hypnosis. They were, in effect, rigorously trained professional dissociators who functioned variously as priests, weather forecasters, doctors and conveyors of the oral tradition. [“An Introduction to Dissociative Identity Disorder as a Model for Distributed Subjectivity in Cyberspace”, by Vernon Reed, ACTLab, U of Texas] )

When Clough says that “Psychoanalysis provided a way to understand the various connotations usually ascribed to the woman as “her nature” as displacements in the service of a fantasmatic production of a unified subject identity, usually in the masculine figure.” [EE1998, 10-11], she of course has the situation exactly backwards. The “displacement in the service of a fantasmatic production” is the poststructural-Freudian fantasy of an “originary oedipal desire” that makes any unified subject impossible.

Yes, there is an unconscious. Yes, “unconscious desire” is a fruitful place to look for the sources of human behavior. But since Freud first made the unconscious available to general scientific inquiry, it has been so variously explored and turned out to have such complexities, that I would have to say that any one who talks about the “oedipal logic” of anything in this day and age probably has a serious emotional problem of fixation. The feminists of whom Clough speaks who want to “reconstitute the woman as a unified subject” [EE, 11] are on the right track. It is Clough who has the fantasmatic problem.

Realism and Desire

There is a human activity that scholars sometimes call “the life of the mind”. It involves an often restless tinkering with one’s environment that is labeled as “curiosity”. It can be characterized by tension and “struggle”, can assume a time-sequenced, goal-oriented duration that can be called a “quest” and is punctuated by moments of “Aha!” Physiologically it is centered in the area of the body around the solar plexus (the hara of Japanese medicine), and not the genitals. It is more primitive and basic than sexual drive. So, it is in itself neither male nor female and is not dependent on the affection or lack thereof of mother or father. It does not construct authorial subjectivity, but rather flows from and presumes that. And it is unconscious. I have called it “the pure desire to know” above, and in the context of the present discussion, it is useful to call it “noetic desire”.

Therefore when Foucault, or anyone else for that matter, calls for bringing to the surface an “archeologically deep relationship between the unconscious and the empirical social or human sciences”, noetic desire should be a dynamism that is dredged up in that process.

However, the post-structuralists (especially post-structuralists who call themselves “feminist”) have not discovered a single small piece of noetic desire in their exploration of the unconscious, and I think the reason for that is the intimate involvement of noetic desire with the flow of sensory experience rooted in the human body. The poststructuralists appear to have a serious problem of being in their bodies, and the reason for that can be some hard-wiring on the one hand, but more probably unresolved trauma imprints left over from harsh patriarchal child-rearing practices.

If one sets out to discover the unconscious foundations of knowledge with systematic insensitivity to the workings of noetic desire, then every time the analyst “goes inside”, he or she inevitably leaps right into the convenient availability of psychoanalytic speculations and “the oedipus complex”. Freud’s questionable creation is a made-to-order piece of language for the unwary inner explorer, even though it leads to seriously tendentious commentaries on human behavior. This is nowhere more true than in Clough’s analysis of “realist narrativity”.

In The Ends of Ethnography, the Oedipus Complex is synonymous with unconscious desire. There is no other candidate to give specificity to the generic standing of “unconscious desire”:  “Perhaps these remarks of Foucault, when I first read them in 1982, deeply engaged me because I was in psychoanalysis and I was a trained ethnographer.” [xiii]

Candid as this revelation may appear to be, it is not nearly enough information to understand the place of “oedipal desire” in Clough’s thinking. Given the wide variation in practices among psychoanalysts we would need to know things such as: what role did her analyst assume in the therapy? Was it that of a mother-figure? A father-figure? An advocate of “healthy” ego-functions? What was the function of the Oedipus Complex in her therapy? Was it imposed, as is so often the case in Freudian practice? Or was it more “client-centered” Lacanian listening?

A contemporary psychoanalyst makes this observation:

If psychoanalysis represented a certain process of discovery and elaboration, “Freudianism” was one of imposition. As we have seen, Freud regretted a certain imposition imposed on his patients with his earlier seduction theory. Later in his work, we can see how he used the Oedipal complex to impose brutal and at times even strikingly preconceived, ready-made interpretations on his patients. The case of Dora, of which Freud himself later had reservations on particular technical aspects, represents a striking example of this.11 And furthermore, in the hands of lesser analysts than Freud, what can be seen often is a certain loss of the quality in psychoanalysis by an abandonment of the more difficult project of psychoanalysis in the name of Freudianism. [Thomas Svolos, “Past and Future of Psychoanalysis in Psychiatry”]

What I am trying to understand here is the primacy of place of the Oedipus Complex for Clough, so that it is the only and exclusive form that “unconscious desire” can take in pursuing the project of Foucault’s “archeology”.

Not only does unconscious desire make a fully intentional subjectivity impossible, as psychoanalysis proposes. But the psychoanalytic account of the unconscious can be understood itself to point more generally to the technical substrates of memory or the unconscious from which human subjectivity is inseparable. [1998EE, xvii]

Well, yes, for her. She was in psychoanalysis for fifteen years, and so the Oedipus story is a powerfully cathected image-repertoire. Edith Kurzweil notes that this was a characteristic of academic feminism in the 1980s:

…attempts [of the 80s] to mesh the revolutionary components of Marxism with those of psychoanalysis had been rather haphazard and, in the long run, unsuccessful. [Kurzweil, F&F 192. ]

…the conspicuous “theorizing” of the recent feminist movements, which, via academic advocacy, has helped to impose what has come to be known as “political correctness.” Therefore, I suggest that we replace abstract and unbridled rhetoric with more concrete–and less flighty–theories based on painstaking research that remains anchored in empirical realities and that, it is hoped, will deflate some of the more extreme views and replace them with a confident but more modest self-awareness. [F&F, 195; emphasis added.]

We have a double-barreled circular reasoning in Clough, that is, she assumes the provenness of what needs to be proved twice over: (1) that unconscious desire is oedipal, and (2) that technical substrates are indistinguishable from human subjectivity. (The Derridean conceptual slippage is here, where in choosing between two terms whose meanings are very close to each other but not exactly the same, the one that favors the dissociation premise is substituted for the one that favors somatic connection. In the previous sentence, I just reversed Clough’s Derridean sleight-of-hand. She says that technical substrates are “inseparable” from subjectivity, and whereas that is factually correct, that does not mean that they are indistinguishable, which is the key epistemological issue.)

It also is apparently just one school of thought within psychoanalysis itself.

Most personality theorists, however, consider [actual cases of oedipal desire] aberrations rather than universals, exceptions rather than rules. They occur in families that aren’t working as well as they should, where parents are unhappy with each other, use their children against each other. They occur in families where parents literally denigrate girls for their supposed lack, and talk about cutting off the penises of unruly boys. They occur especially in neighborhoods where correct information on even he simplest sexual facts is not forthcoming, and children learn mistaken ideas from other children.

If we view the Oedipal crisis, castration anxiety, and penis envy in a more metaphoric and less literal fashion, they are useful concepts: We do love our mothers and fathers as well as compete with them. Children probably do learn the standard heterosexual behavior patterns by imitating the same-sex parent and practicing on the opposite-sex parent. In a male-dominated society, having a penis — being male — is better than not, and losing one’s status as a male is scary. And wanting the privileges of the male, rather than the male organ, is a reasonable thing to expect in a girl with aspirations. But Freud did not mean for us to take these concepts metaphorically. Some of his followers, however, did. [Dr. C. George Boeree , “Freud and Psychoanalysis”,]

And further:

The recent upsurge of interest in victims of child abuse together with the discovery that the incidence of incest appears to be much greater than we had thought has called into question Freud’s abandonment of the “seduction theory” of hysteria, an event that had always been seen as pivotal in the history of psychoanalysis. …… As a result, the whole notion of the authority of psychoanalytic beliefs has been eroded and, with it, the presumption that because a key tenet of metapsychology has been held to for many years, has in fact been made into a shibboleth of orthodoxy, that is no guarantee of its continuing endurance, its truth or utility. If one looks at recent journals or books for a respectful reference to metapsychology — indeed, for almost any reference at all — one looks in vain, an implicit acknowledgement, I think, that the old ambition of psychoanalysis to achieve unity and hegemony has been abandoned. [“Psychoanalysis Today: Implications for Organizational Applications”, A Paper for the ISPSO International Symposium, July 7-9, 1995, London, by Kenneth Eisold, PhD.]

[I would like, by the way, to know what Maria Montessori has to say about unconscious desire and fully intentional subjectivity, and will discuss that later on.]

Clough mentions that at this point in her thinking—while she was in psychoanalysis and reading James Clifford and Fredric Jameson—she experienced this idea:

…it seemed to me that sociology, even quantitative sociology, depended on an authorizing narrative logic or a form of emplotment which only functioned more obviously in ethnography and in the discourse of qualitative sociological methods—that is, the narrative of the heroic scientist—the researcher who goes out in search of truth, struggling to get there, stay there, and return from there with a truly objective story of the world. It was this narrative logic … that became my focus of study—what feminist critics already were referring to as the oedipal logic of realist narrativity. [1998EE, xiii]

So, the original impetus for the oedipal aspect was indeed its status among American academic feminists of the 1980s.

Clough certainly supplies us with her thought process, beginning with her re-reading of James Clifford’s and Michel de Certau’s re-reading of a certain Father Lafitau’s 1724 ethnography Moeurs des Sauvages Ameriquains and her discussion of this matter reveals a that tell-tale slippage between concepts that are not necessarily related at all, namely fictional imagery (Adam and Eve of the Bible) and sexual imagery on the one hand, and the oedipal image-repertoire on the other. [1998EE, 15-19.]

There certainly is sexual imagery in Lafitau’s frontespiece, and in de Certau’s interpretation of it. In that discussion the ethnographer is seen to align himself with the generativity of the woman, and certainly that is recognition and admiration of a female sexual potency. But is this “oedipal”? Is the woman in question the ethnographer’s mother, whom he has “lost”, or might she not be simply his wife-girlfriend-paramour-partner, whom he has not lost at all, but to whom he has ready access?

But this is not a possibility for Clough. For her, if it is unconscious it is oedipal (and indistinguishable from subjectivity to boot), and even more clearly, if it is sexual it is oedipal.

The slippage of unrelated ideas is even more glaring in her discussion of Malinowski’s frontespiece (the photograph of the Trobriand chief during a ceremonial act). In that passage she appears to make up an interpretation out of whole cloth, based solely on the fact that the frontespiece is a photograph. Now I fully grant that the photograph exemplifies an interest in “objectivity”, “distance” and “looking” (gross anatomical seeing), but if you understand the dynamics of noetic desire, these are all easily seen as related to choices about knowledge, not anything remotely sexual not to mention oedipal.

But for Clough this is not the case: “In the ethnography, correspondences, comparisons and contrasts are authoritatively distributed in terms of a narrative logic that establishes a boundary by figuring the field of research as feminine, that is as the site of obstacle and trial for the researcher, who is consequently figured as masculine hero.” (EE, 17-18)

Excuse me? “The field of research is feminine”? Now, where in the world did this image-repertoire come from? Could it be an importation from fifteen years of pscyhoanalysis in which the Oedipus story has become the story of all reality? Is it a Lacanian display of free association and arbitrariness? Is everything photographed ipso facto feminine? Are all “sites of obstacle and trial” in human experience sexually identified? Are there no pure objects to be warded off or engaged? Are there no flows of experience whose intelligibility is not immediately apparent, that need to be patiently examined over long periods of time before they reveal their meaning in that “aha!” that constitutes the essence of knowledge? Not for Clough: “Thus the ethnography is informed with a narrative logic by which the hero and the obstacles are always morphologically masculine and feminine, regardless of their textual personification.” [EE, 18] And she cites as supportive of this proposition the work of Teresa De Lauretis, whose assertions are just as subjective and arbitrary as Clough’s.

The gratuitous insertion of the term “oedipal” into the discussion of “realist narrativity” runs continuously through the work of Clough and everyone she cites in Chapter 1 of Ends. This attests to the ready supply in the 1980s of doctrinaire Freudian commentators in literary criticism who do not have a realist epistemology. Are they all dissociated? Does the nature of the object of their study—not material reality but merely writing—make dissociated epistemology easier for them? For, it is only if you do not get the implications for subjectivity of the flow of noetic desire—its duration, difficulty, tension and “struggle”—that you might turn to the Oedipus Complex for an interpretation of those issues.

Clough’s mis-handling of “realist narrativity” gets more intense as she re-reads the work of the ethnographers Herbert Blumer, Howard Becker and Erving Goffman. Her interpretations of Blumer and Becker are gratuitously oedipal, and when she gets to Goffman, we find his discussion of “primary frames” does place him close to Derrida’s dissociated epistemology, as the constructs of social experience start to obscure the physical realities of social experience for him. He did seem to be losing his grip, that is, his contact with sensory process, and heading out to join Jacques Derrida on the funny farm. But her use of Goffman to legitimize her version of ethnography is still tendentious:

The ghosted writing of a haunted realism is an extension of the writings of Blumer, Becker and Goffman, …… Blumer’s suspicion that researchers’ perspectives will not allow them to see enough for them to give a complete and adequate representation of the empirical world is transformed into the positive analysis of representations and the processes of constructing positionalities, tracing the transference and countertransference of fantasy and desire. [EE136-137]

Actually, it is not an “extension” of the writings of Blumer, Becker and Goffman, it is an inversion. Blumer encourages “suspicion” of pursuing “traces.” Clough privileges them. Becker recommends careful segregation of feelings. Clough embraces them uncritically. Goffman recommends keeping track of common sense. Clough recommends abandoning it. But, never mind.

Becker’s suspicion that social scientific writers will yield to sentiment is transformed into a positive practice of writing that seeks out the sexuality that urges it, thus forestalling the privatization of desire and its domestic confinement in naming it sentimentality. [EE137]

If then the ghosted writing of a haunted realism insists on partiality and difference, it is to stir up scenes of rememory that surprise us with ourselves, who are always already there in the scenes. Goffman’s suspicion that social scientists will lose their common sense to endless rounds of self-criticism is transformed into a positive work of social criticism that refuses the defenses and compulsions of methodology in its futile effort to sustain the opposition or empirical science and the seduction and engrossment of all other mass media communication technologies. [EE137]


The Realist Path.

Realist Ethnography.

Once one understands that it is noetic desire, not oedipal desire, that undergirds the “logic of realist narrativity”, then one is in a position to mount an entirely different critique of male dominance and “the will to scientificity”. Since “science” is merely focussed attention to the flow of sensory experience, it is not difficult to note the cultural biases that prefer certain flows (e.g., gross anatomical seeing and denotative phonic hearing) and neglect other ones (e.g., the bodily expressions of emotion, the inner body sensation that reveals to oneself one’s own emotions, etc.).

One can in this frame of reference acknowledge the limited value of “science”, and the noteworthy value of other forms of information, e.g., poetry, music, art and psychotherapy. For, noetic desire is neither male nor female in its essential constitution. Also, noetic desire does not produce the only knowledge human beings need in order to prosper. If the traditional exercise of noetic desire is what we have sometimes come to call “reason” or “rationality”, then noetic desire itself is perfectly capable of expanding its range. So Clough is correct in raising the question of “the ideological hegemony of empiricism”, but she is incorrect in attributing it to the nature of unconscious desire itself.

When Clough urges “a reconsideration of the privilege given observation and “factual” descriptions as the basis of criticism” and “social criticism that gives up on data collection and instead offers rereadings of representations in every form of information processing, empirical science, literature, film, television, and computer simulation.” [EE, 137] I would say, “Reconsider, yes; but keep them. Keep the privilege; keep data-gathering.”

We “privilege” fact, because it is the basis of all human knowledge. The essence of science is merely its attention to sensory flow. If you have no sensory process, you have no knowledge at all. If “rememories” are important to you, then they have to be rememories of something. Without tracking the sensory experiences that gave rise to them, you are not remembering; you are dreaming. Both of these are worthwhile activities, but it does seem healthy to distinguish between them. Science is not everything, but it is what it is.

There seems to be running throughout the cultural critique of feminists of the last thirty years a deep displeasure with the “authority” of science, “the will to scientificity”. I think this is a throwing out of the baby with the bath water, a confusion between the social location of science in a patriarchal society and the nature of science in itself. I also think this seriously hampers any feminist project of liberation and equality. It is sort of like outlawing basketball instead of forming the WNBA.

Since noetic desire is neither male nor female, I think the route to valuing the authority of science as a non-sexist enterprise is for women to participate, as they seem to be doing apace these days. I argue that the authority of science and the will to scientificity are both essential components of being human, and necessary for survival and spiritual growth. The authority of science is after all its ability to connect us with matter. The difference between investigative journalism and ethnography is that journalism reports events at their surface and ethnography records the flow of experience carefully and allows it to reside in consciousness for a while until patterns that were not obvious on the surface emerge from its depths. Where in the world would we be without the objectively true findings of science such as heliocentrism, the Periodic Table, Pasteurization, nuclear weapons, the double helix, antibiotics, deep time and the big bang, to name but a few results of the elemental exercise of mind?

And the privileging of “scientific fact” is after all simply asserting the irreplaceable place of embodiment in human experience. It does not exclude dreaming or introspection, but asserts the known fact that dreaming and introspection can get really crazy and destructive if they are not always brought back to the body for verification. I think it is the Sufis who say that in spiritual learning one must “always return to the body”.

The pursuit of realist ethnography can indeed assume a very different social location than the one anthropology had in colonial times and that sociology had before Carol Gilligan gave us In A Different Voice. Self-reflexivity is a very good thing, but of course, it presumes a self. Observation is also a very good thing, only with our new understanding of the scope of sensory process, it must include the nuances that inner body sensing brings to seeing-hearing-tasting-smelling-touching. But even this more complete and sensitive observation has the authority of fact and the reliability of description. The self-reflexive subject is fully aware of the difference between his or her perceptions on the one hand and his or her fantasies, memories and emotions on the other. While not discounting either class of information, the realist ethnographer distinguishes between them, and describes them both. The value of description is that it can be verified. Were you really there? Did that really happen? Did they really say that?

But the self reflexive ethnographer does not embark on Clough’s project to “… turn to face the unconscious processes upon which [it] depend(s) but disavow(s) in the narrative construction of their authority as empirical sciences.” [133] This seems to be putting yourself into psychotherapy, and if it is not recognized as such, can be a dangerous self-absorption. Ethnography contents itself with the patterns that can be found in surface flows of experience already-out-there-now. These, it has been found, yield very interesting results if they are handled with intelligence, as we see in Mary Douglas’s Purity and Danger, Victor Turner’s work with the Ndembu, Bourdieu’s Travail et travailleurs en Algérie, William Foote White’s Street Corner Society, Gerald Suttles’s The Social Order of the Slum, and countless other studies. Nor does it “give up on data collection and instead offer rereadings of representations in every form of information processing, empirical science, literature, film, television, and computer simulation.” [137]

I think that ethnography as “a ghosted writing of a haunted realism” [EE, 137] paradoxically (inasmuch as she doesn’t believe in the existence of the “transcendental” subject) dooms ethnography to a subjective self-absorption that irrevocably removes it from the authority of science and reduces it to the solipsistic ruminations of desperate inmates. “Rereadings of representations in every form of information processing, empirical science, literature, film, television, and computer simulation” sounds like an invitation to never observe living people, but to confine yourself to watching television, going to movies, sitting at your computer, and reading novels. What, I would ask, is the fieldwork agenda of such a program? It might support a career in literary criticism, but it does not support ethnography.

The identification of realism with “colonial writing processes” [EE, 132] falls directly into the fallacy of misplaced concreteness and mistakes the version of realism adopted in one particular historical social milieu—patriarchal colonialism—for realism in itself. So the correction for colonial ethnography is simply to authorize all the voices that colonial institutions marginalized and suppressed. The authorization of all these “privacies” is what enables them to participate in history. But of course, “authorization” presumes the transcendental subjectivity of these voices. The only thing to be “sacrificed” in this maneuver is the credibility of Foucault and the post-structuralists. I am willing to do that.

Realist Therapy

Contemporary trauma treatment differs from psychoanalysis in one important respect. Psychoanalysis privileges healing image-repertoires. Trauma treatment privileges bodily events. Seeking release of the frozen response sequences of mammalian defense, its central therapeutic move is always to ask, “What happened?”

But it is not easy to answer this question. The widespread distribution of trauma imprints through harsh child-rearing practices makes standard introspective awareness seriously rudimentary. Most people do not have a clue as to how to engage their trauma imprints usefully. And so the question, “What happened?” normally produces catatonic trance. The subject leaves their body completely.

So trauma treatment involves learning how to stay awake without being overwhelmed by a re-enactment of the original trauma

The key to the method of trauma treatment is to learn somatic process. This usually starts with routine and innocent body-awareness: walking around the room with the instruction to “just notice” involuntary macro-muscle activity, involuntary micro-muscle activity, voluntary macro-muscle activity and voluntary micro-muscle activity. That is, start with noticing what is going in on your body.

The training gives this physiological noticing a vocabulary: “warmth”, “tightness in my diaphragm”, “a tingling”. . . When you notice inner body sensations in a relaxed and quiet bodily state, they “move”. You just follow them wherever they lead. The result is an increased sense of presence in one’s body and in the world.

So, what you are doing in trauma treatment is changing the default arrangement of your psychosomatic resources. If we think in terms of five kinds of resources: (1) cognition, (2) emotions, (3) impulse, (4) the five sensory instruments, and (5) sensation, then working with cognition (i.e., what psychoanalysis does) would be working from “above”, and working with sensation would be working from “below”. Historically earlier methods in psychotherapy work from “above”, while recently developed “sensori-motor” methods work from “below”.

We note furthermore that emotions have two components: one mental, one physiological. We train ourselves to pay less attention to the mental part and focus on the somatic. This is because what has made trauma so “mysterious” up till recently is that previously we did not understand the biological structure of these responses. Now that we do, we have more powerful treatment options.

Furthermore, the idea of “overwhelm” is important. When we were very little, events that would be trivial to an adult can overwhelm the fetus or infant: e.g., simple pain, alone-ness, rejection, etc. So, “traumas” can be very ordinary events, and everybody has them.

“Overwhelm” is essentially an information issue. Things happen too fast. There is too much information to process. Our response mechanisms get overloaded. They freeze. The treatment is to un-freeze them.

These frozen responses persist into adulthood and form a framework for interpreting the world. . As frozen, physiological imprints, they must be treated physiologically. (See Waking the Tiger, by Peter A. Levine.)

Realist Spirituality

Clough is impressed by the ability of poststructuralism to gain access to “the ontic”, while still putting “origins and authenticity under erasure.” [A, 6] Poststructuralism also “offers an ontological perspective in which nature and technology, the body, and the machine, the real and the virtual, the living and the inert are given in differantial relationships, each inextricable from the other.” [Ibid.] Ah, so. All this stuff is “is-ing” in the very same way. Well, I can see how that might seem to be the case to the disembodied imagination, but it doesn’t seem that way to an embodied intellect.

This whole discovery of the ontic by D and C made me smile. Ah so, even from the redoubt of the disembodied imagination, Being makes its call. And Derrida’s treatment of “the given” also made my face break out in an avuncular sourire. “This extremely difficult perhaps impossible idea,” which forces ontology “to break off …with all originary authenticity.” ” ‘The given’ ruins any presumption of origin or authenticity in Being.” [A, 5-6.]

Ah, dear. So difficult! But only if you are not in your body. If you are in your body, it is not difficult at all. In classical metaphysics we know about “the given”. We call it “contingency” and it consists of the introspective awareness that “I am indeed, and I do not cause myself to be.” And it is a natural bit of knowledge for anyone who actually inhabits their body noetically, as did the pre-Socratics, Aristotle and Aquinas, to name but a few.

It is highly probable that the poststructuralist discovery of the ontic is merely the discovery of the imagined ontic, not being-as-such. This would make them cousins of the gnostics, who had the same quest and achievement. The virtuoso accomplishments of disembodied consciousness of the Albigensians of twelfth century southern France are well-known in history. Their stated beliefs—such as that the world was only three generations old—and their social non-conformity so alarmed conventional society that the king of France decided to kill them all. On those occasions when the Cathari were condemned to death by being burned at the stake, they scared their executioners out of their wits by not screaming in pain, but singing throughout the ordeal. So, disembodied consciousness is a viable lifestyle.

Gaining access to the ontic has been around for a long time, and there is of course a lot of controversy about it. So I will just give my opinion and let it go at that. I like the Buddhist method: “Make friends with yourself; start sitting.” However, I must warn all poststructuralists that “sitting” for a Buddhist involves original subjectivity from the get-go. It is not at all a fantasy trip. So, if you sit, you will encounter your self, and that will include all the trauma imprints you have avoided all your life. But Buddhists know about this. They just sit there until the pain passes. The outcome is good. You get release from your unconscious fears. “Because you think you have body or mind, you have very lonely feelings. But when you realize that everything is a flashing into the vast universe, then you become very strong and your existence becomes very meaningful.” [Zen Mind Beginners Mind, by Shunryu Suzuki]

There is of course an extensive literature about all this, and I have even written about it myself, principally in The Secular Spirit, in which Chapter 6, “Spiritual Learning”, gives my overview. So I will not go on at length here. Read the book. []

Realist Social Criticism

Clough wants sociology to be “a social criticism of knowledge production, technoscience, and teletechnology, globalized in transnational capitalism.” [EE, xvii]

This will presumably be carried out through those “rereadings of representations in every form of information processing, empirical science, literature, film, television, and computer simulation.” [137] “A form of writing social criticism that I referred to as “haunted realism”… “hauntological writing.” [EE, xviii]

This will give us finally “a social criticism that can intervene in the relationship of information economies, nation-state politics, and technologies of mass communications, especially in terms of the empirical sciences.” [136]

Ah, “ghost-hunting”. Experimental writing. Such activity might intervene in the real world. But it sounds like imaginative literature, perhaps parapsychology. It does not sound like sociology. Of course, “there’s nothing wrong with that.” Science is not everything; it just is what it is.

My own pursuit would be of a realist social criticism. Since realism need not be colonial writing, we can look, realistically, to history first of all to see what actual cases of social transformation look like. That might give us a clue as to what social criticism should look like. I come up with a modest list.

First, there is printing, which was in terms of intentional programming something of an “accident”, but when it burst onto the scene in about 1450, it transformed everything.

Second, I like to think about Martin Luther’s posting his 95 theses on the cathedral door in Wittenberg in 1517, a nice little successful rebellious act, great timing, immense results.

Thirdly, those guys in Philadelphia in 1776 issued their declaration of independence beginning with the phrase, “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” That certainly laid out some new arrangements.

Fourthly, I nominate the Universal Declaration of Human rights adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948. My understanding is that Eleanor Roosevelt was a key figure in the creation of that document, but its possibility was certainly created by the deaths of 50 million people in Europe in the previous ten years, and the vivid collective memory of leadership cadres of the course of events that had led from the treaty composed in Paris in 1919, through the rise of Fascism, the Holocaust, and the bombing of Hiroshima. Cataclysm, it seems, is a powerful stimulus for transformation, for the survivors.

So, on this level it seems that “knowledge maketh a bloody entrance” and sociology is not involved. There are indeed plenty of people in the world endowed with consciousness who do not think much about knowledge production at all.

But then I think of Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel, The Jungle, and Michael Harrington’s 1962 The Other America. And so maybe we do have a contribution to make. My program for social criticism would go very, very light on the re-readings, and spend a lot more time out in the field observing the scenes and the interstices where late capitalism is working out its logic. In a city like New York there are innumerable opportunities. We already have Adrian LeBlanc’sRandom Family (Scribner, 2003) but there is much more available. I would like to see a piece called “Bodega”, in which someone hangs out for a year or so in the same corner grocery. A summer tending bar in the Hamptons should produce some really interesting field notes. Gaining the confidence of a few mid-town doormen could set up a marvelous study. Following around a subway conductor for a few months could be equally rewarding. Is there a business conscious enough to allow an ethnographer into their headquarters for a year? And so on. The opportunities are endless. But they require a self-identified subject who can tell the difference between his or her sensory flow and the unconscious conditions of knowledge production, stay awake, and privilege the former. This ethnographer would end up producing a little piece of science, and that is what it is all about.

Michael H. Ducey, Ph.D.
Bronx, NY
June 2007