Monday, 23 April 2018 06:00


SB: ”I`d like to return to more philosophical matters. Would I be right in saying that your interest in psychoanalysis can be inscribed in the tradition of what I would call the Modern Trinity, i.e. Marx, Nietzsche and Freud? When I mentioned this modern trinity to Jean-François Lyotard in a conversation we had for italian Public TV in 1994, he almost took offence... this evocation of those philosophers as Trinity or Trimurti irritated him(1). As a matter of fact, a whole current of thought, known today as post-modern, is inspired by the three thinkers I just mentioned, with some adding Heidegger or Wittgenstein. This is the trio that Ricoeur defined as ”thought of suspicion”. For example, papers relating the Marxist theory of commodities` fetishism with the Freudian one of fetishism as a perversion, and so on... You were yourself a friend and student of Guy Debord, who was certainly a genuine Marxist. The question is, do you link Freud tightly to Marx and Nietzsche? And if so, in what way does this triangulation, so to speak, work?”

MP: Do I too think that the founding fathers of contemporary intelligibility are the five you just mentioned, because they assign to all that is silent and occult a power that belongs neither to the realm of pure spirit nor to the rhetoric of the world? In other words, they reject both the monastic, ineffectual and contemplative life and the political, ideological and spectacular one. Faith in the fact that rationality would be able to triumph in the world as on a stage with the curtains wide open permeates Idealism and Positivism together with their 20th century epigones: but this faith is nothing but naivety. The founding fathers of contemporary intelligibility take for granted that thought, rationality, morality have in various ways been totally excluded from the world`s stage and that their place has been taken over by ideology, false consciousness, rhetoric, will for power, shows, new ignorance; but instead of shutting themselves inside a contemplative and remissive mode of being, they pose a chall11e of unseen proportions, countering all that with something silent and occult and concealed as the real motive of reality. For Marx this is the class struggle, for Nietzsche it is the Inactual, for Freud the unconscious, for Wittgenstein linguistic usage, for Heidegger abandonment to things. To put it briefly, they take for granted the political social destitution of reason (and thus also the possibility that this may have a real ethical and pedagogical influence on the West). Never has their heritage been as valuable and irreplaceable as in today`s world of globalized communication, and it naturally only appeals to the few who manage not to be dulled by the great clatter we`re all enwrapped in. This heritage teaches that we must not allow ourselves to be intimidated by the arrogance and conceit of whatever potentate we come across. The biggest danger, however, is naivety, that foolish candor the main victims of which are today`s youngsters. The highest result one can achieve is to bring across the message that whatever is of the highest importance is necessarily unapparent and silent, but not because of that remissive and impotent.

SB: ”A certain professional bias leads me to quibble over a slip of tongue in your reply, the first sentence of which had an interrogative intonation. Did you not mean to give it an affirmative one? If it was a slip-Freud dixit-then it must really have revealed some truth you would call `unapparent and silent` about your thinking. And perhaps not only about yours, but about anyone who follows the Modern Trinity. And I wonder whether this truth wouldn`t by any chance just be the following: that what you say in an affirmative or apodictic form about Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Heidegger, Wittgenstein, shouldn`t actually be meant as a question, a doubt. Is it not time to be suspicious of ”suspicious thought”, as Ricoeur called it? I would go as far as wondering whether this wouldn`t actually be the real turning point of the new century (provided that a turning point there must be): initially the Trimurti, plus Heidegger and Wittgentsein, were an apodictic truth, perhaps today they too should be deconstructed. In a nutshell, are you really sure that we can carry on being Marxian or Nietzschean, or Freudian, etc., as we could be-had to be, even-twenty or thirty years ago? Isn`t it about time we started questioning ourselves on this point too?”

MP: Rather than a slip of tongue, I would call it a typing error, as I`ve been writing with a new computer, which has a different keyboard from my previous one. To come to the point, I have no doubts on the founding role of these five philosophers, who will still be read and studied by future generations. On the other hand, I question myself about the intellectual strategy, works and, above all, human destiny of the French thinkers who constituted the so-called French Theory. I have the impression that one can no longer follow their path, especially since they have decided to rival the mass media.

SB: ”This fact that you put the French authors known as the ”post-structuralists” back into proportion surprises me somewhat (though I agree with you, they definitely do need to be put back in the right perspective). You were a friend of Derrida in the 60s and you often invited to italy well-known French authors such as Jean Baudrillard and Bruno Latour. In other words, you`re renowned for your link-and not only biographical-with Parisian culture. Which French theory authors do you think particularly deserve criticism and why?”

MP: Not only I, but italian philosophers in general, learnt a lot from French Theory: we learnt a new style of philosophizing, freer from academic concerns and closer to literary criticism. The development of such a stile, however, would require a cultivated society and a type of journalism that didn`t merely review the books of their friends; it would require, in other words, a national cultural life where authors and their works were subjected to a conceptual mobilization and not merely exhibited spectacularly in the advertising style. It would also require publishing policies that didn`t merely churn out generally badly done text books and manuals for universities, but ones that encouraged the promotion on the international market of the works of the highest value. These conditions are no longer present. Guy Debord is a separate case, no less because he was not a typical French thinker, but rather a Neapolitan in Paris. Freud didn`t belong to the group of authors with his same background; furthermore, the influence of his thought is not an indirect effect of his success in the U.S., but followed other routes linked to the international historical avant-garde, to Marxism and anarchism. This plot of underground relations didn`t depend on the media, but rather, especially in the mid-90s, on the Internet. From this perspective, the role of the Internet in the international cultural world is more feasible than that of the mass media, because it is more direct, it is not confined to national boundaries and is based on a cooperation between people who, independently from their institutional or professional role, do have intellectual energy inside them.

CC: ”A substantial trend in contemporary psychoanalysis has reduced the importance of the Freudian unconscious, and as a consequence the importance and the therapeutic power of self-knowledge. The stress is rather on new systems of meaning, on different perspectives giving rise to improved lifestyles, even on ”narrative persuasiveness”. All this seems to be greatly modifying the relationship with what for Freudian psychoanalysis had always been the search for some form of truth. As a philosopher, what`s your opinion on this?”

MP: Just what is the unconscious from a philosophical point of view? It is an asymmetrical opposition where two terms don`t stand on the same plain: it is the most radical form of opposition Western thought has ever come up with, and which follows the four types of opposition developed by Aristotle (correlation, contraries, possession-privation, contradiction); it is an extremely relevant theoretical invention and one that can be applied not only to the psychic life but to the description of any phenomenon, even collective, social, textual... Who denies the unconscious? Those who want to give a conciliated, harmonic, and thus ideological, image of experience and society (e.g. Neo-Jungians, the New Age movement and so on...). Finally, it seems of great significance to me that even the neurosciences are advancing the necessity to consider the unconscious, as one can see from Lionel Naccache`s book, Le Nouvel Inconscient: Freud, Christophe Colomb des neurosciences, Paris, Odile Jacob, 2006.

SB: ”A weighty point... Could you be more specific with regard to this opposition? And could you give some examples from the social and textual spheres you mentioned?”

MP: The sentiment of the 20th century has taken the opposite direction from aesthetical conciliation, towards the experience of a greater conflict than dialectical contradiction, towards the exploration of the opposition between terms that are not symmetrically polar one to the other. This entire philosophical affair, which I don`t hesitate to consider the most original and important of the 20th century, goes under the notion of difference, meant as non-identity, as a dissimilitude greater than the logical concept of diversity and the dialectical one of distinction. In other words, the entrance of difference into experience marks the abandonment of both the Aristotelian logics of identity and of Hegelian dialectics. No wonder, therefore, that the thinkers of difference (Heidegger, Freud, Wittgenstein and Benjamin) are also extraneous to aesthetics in the strict sense. Their extraneousness from the modern aesthetical tradition by no means derives, however, from an exclusive attention to purely theoretical problems, from a disinterest in feeling; it is rather the opposite: it is the study of feeling that has led them to put aside both Kant and Hegel.
At the textual level, the Freudian unconscious has met up with the Heideggerian unthought (ungedacht), giving rise to deconstructive practices. My work, on the other hand, has focused on the unconscious of cultures, and one of the essential aspects of the project behind the journal I`m editing, Ágalma, is precisely the study of what individual cultures suppress, in other words of their unconscious. It is therefore a project that fits into the framework of Cultural Studies in a very special way. I`d like to give a few examples of this method of investigation, which has some important bearings in psychoanalysis itself. Regarding Japanese culture, the psychoanalyst Doi Takeo has invented the notion of amae. For Brazil, psychoanalyst Jorge Forbes has argued that the image of cordial man, theorized by Sérgio Buarque de Holanda, hides the Brazilian fear of confronting desire. On the topic of italy, several years ago Alessandro Fontana wrote an important essay on the italian unconscious. As far as I`m concerned, a conspicuous part of my work rotates around the notion of ritual, which could be a fundamental key to interpreting the ancient Roman world, which has some surprising affinities with so-called Confucianism, as I point out in my introduction, specially written for the Chinese edition, to my book Ritual Thinking (Beijing, The Commercial Press, 2006).

SB: ”It strikes me that you include Benjamin among the 20th century thinkers who are extraneous to aesthetics. One would rather say that Benjamin`s aesthetical texts-beginning with the essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction-have had a decisive influence not only on 20th century thought, but also on the aesthetical praxis of the century. Perhaps then, by `extraneousness to aesthetics` you mean something different from what is commonly meant by this expression.”

MP: Walter Benjamin has placed at the center of his reflections three issues that traditional aesthetics (of Kantian and Hegelian derivation) neglected or suppressed: death, the thing, commodities and sexuality. Benjamin`s originality doesn`t consist so much in his having made these the cornerstones of his reflections, but rather in his having related them to each other, giving a theoretical dimension to an alternative experience to vitalism, which-taking a cue from an observation by Benjamin himself on the subject of fashion-can be defined by the expression ”the sex appeal of the inorganic”. The theoretical nucleus of this experience consists of a mix of the human dimension and that ”of the thing”, through which human sensitivity is reified on the one hand and things seemingly endowed with a sensitivity of their own on the other. It is not a completely new type of experience, but in Benjamin it is applied to a vast multiplicity of situations and constitutes an extremely fertile key to reading the 20th century. The inorganic is not just the mineral, but also the cadaverous, the mummified, the technological, the chemical, the commodified, the fetish object: thus the inorganic is dematerialized, it becomes something abstract and incorporeal, but without turning into something imaginary or unreal as a consequence; on the contrary, behind all these configurations of the inorganic, what is at work is something of the utmost reality and effectuality, that is to say money.
In his best known essay, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Benjamin examines the transition from the traditional work of art, characterized by a unique unrepeatable identity, to the modern forms of artistic expression, which, like photography and film, dissolve the hic et nunc of the work into a multiplicity of copies lacking an original. Such a phenomenon is described by Benjamin as a loss of ”aura” and cultural value, whose place is taken up by its show value, i.e. by an accentuation of the work`s spectacular dimension, which ends up overshadowing its aesthetic specificity. These mutations go hand in hand with a thorough transformation of perception and feeling: the photo camera and the movie camera capture images that escape the natural eye, which finds itself obliged to identify with the technological apparatus. The movie camera`s vision, Benjamin observes, is similar to that of the unconscious: it captures a whole range of things that had previously gone unnoticed. This gives rise to an artificial perception that mutates the senses of closeness and distance, as well as the notion of reality itself, which becomes illusionistic on the one hand and hyper-naturalistic on the other. While in the theatre actors offer a unified performance, in the movies they are forced to go through a plurality of filming sessions that exteriorize their performing. Everything becomes plural and replicated, but it is a different type of repetition, which creates an infinity of variants within a common genre. Benjamin stresses the revolutionary potential of these transformations of perception and of the senses.


1) See Lyotard, ”Resistances. A Conversation”, on this same issue.


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