Altitude: an e-journal of emerging humanities work

June 1, 2002

Psychoanalysis and Economics: The Significance of the Primal Scene

Filed under: Volume 2: Dreamscapes (2002) — Tags: , , — Clifton Evers @ 6:37 am

by Jesse Shipway, Altitude, Volume 2, Article 4, 2002.

PDF Version: Psychoanlaysis and Economics: The Significance of the Primal Scene

The note of interrogation which serves as the precondition for this essay resonates out from around a single question: What might we stand to gain from bringing the hermeneutic apparatus of psycho-analysis to the logic of economics? The passage reproduced above gives us a starting point from which to begin this foray, a clue, that is in essence, Nietzschean. On this reading, the discovery of the unconscious, the principal enabling achievement of psycho-analysis should be thought first and foremost as the sounding out of a false idol; the self-same one that fills the hollow center of Slavoj Zizek’s latest work, The Ticklish Subject. I am speaking of course of the cartesian self, the self-identical cogito, the idol of rationality and reason as the master of its own house. In exorcising this phantasm, in creating a space for an understanding of the way that irrational processes cut right to the heart of human subjectivity, Freud carved out a toehold for radical critique in an otherwise sheer and intransigent epistemological fortress. Following in an unintended way from Nietszche’s invocation to philosophise with a hammer, Freud’s conceptualisation of the unconscious set in train an intellectual concatenation whose reverberations can still be heard today, even by those of us who, unlike the philologist from Basel, do not possess ears behind our ears.

But the metaphor of the hammer should not be misunderstood. Despite the insistence of many of his Anglo-American critics, Nietzsche’s was not a destructive, nor even a nihilistic philosophy. Likewise, Freud’s clinical reassessment of the enlightenment subject was never envisioned as an act of negative critique. Which leads us, after a fashion, to a reading of the discovery of the unconscious as a sublime act of creative destruction on the part of the inventor of psychoanalysis, an act perfectly in line with the less commonly grasped dimension of the Nietzschean critical imperative; to sound out idols with the tuning fork of re-valuation.

Which brings us, in a round about kind of way to economics, or more precisely, to neo-classical economics and the logical and discursive system in which it has found expression. What greater false idol presents itself to our 21st century eyes than this monstrous reifying system that, disguised as the technical recipe for guaranteeing a new capitalist prosperity for all, was smuggled into the institutional corridors of the civil society with the invidious political agendas of Thatcherism, Reaganomics and in this country, Economic Rationalism. This Hayekian blueprint for world apprehension which has served, variously, as the grounds for the neo-classical and econometric hijacking of political economy and the source of philosophical legitimacy for the previously mentioned political movements acts at the present moment in coalition with even more powerful juggernauts hell bent on implementing the latest and most devastating stages of globalisation. In combination with compromised and acquiescent governmental institutions at every legislative level, these megaliths continue to entangle greater and greater regions of our planet in the sticky web of capitalist economism. When coupled with the explosive growth in reach and influence of the world’s financial power elite, the spread of the technocratic Weltanschauung held in common by these various parties seems to bring us closer and closer to the brink of the abyss beyond which lies the dire state of affairs described by Horkheimer and Adorno in the opening paragraph of The Dialectic of Enlightenment: the fully enlightened earth which radiates disaster triumphant.

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