The Method and Consequences of The Life Death Drives

1. Method

The nature of this study requires an interdisciplinary and a multi-methodological attitude which goes beyond the opposition between merely conceptual and merely empirical approaches. It is based on a mode of enquiry which takes its driving force from thought-experiments that open paths to a new field in which various perspectives interact and form an intra-subjective dimension of theoretical practice situating psychoanalysis, cognitive neuroscience, and philosophy in the context of cultural and critical theory. For the emergence of a new truth out of the old knowledge one must pose new questions concerning the workings of the human mind. In the light of the recent developments in cognitive neuroscience, for instance, especially the works of Antonio Damasio and Gerald Edelman, Freud’s concepts of the life drive and the death drive, Klein’s concepts of introjection and projective identification, and Wilfred Bion’s affirmative recreation of Klein’s theories in the way of a theory of thinking become extremely relevant for the development of a universal cultural and critical theory.

Cognitive neuroscience proposes that the quality of an external object is always already projected onto that object by the neuronal activity of the brain. What cognitive neuroscience lacks is a historical context, likewise what cultural studies lacks is an organic basis. An interaction between psychoanalysis, linguistics, philosophy, cultural studies, and cognitive neuroscience can break out of the closure of the humanities and give birth to the link which has come to be considered missing, between nature and nurture, organic and inorganic, empirical and conceptual, epistemological and ontological, transcendental and immanent, the objective and the subjective.

Because of the dynamic and parallel nature of re-entry and because it is a process of higher-order selection, it is not easy to provide a metaphor that captures all the properties of re-entry. Try this: Imagine a peculiar (and even weird) string quartet, in which each player responds by improvisation to ideas and cues of his or her own, as well as to all kinds of sensory cues in the environment. Since there is no score, each player would provide his or her own characteristic tunes, but initially these various tunes would not be coordinated with those of the other players. Now imagine that the bodies of the players are connected to each other by myriad fine threads so that their actions and movements are rapidly conveyed back and forth through signals of changing thread tensions that act simultaneously to time each player’s actions. Signals that instantaneously connect the four players would lead to a correlation of their sounds; thus, new, more cohesive, and more integrated sounds would emerge out of the otherwise independent efforts of each player. This correlative process would alter the next action of each player, and by these means the process would be repeated but with new emergent tunes that were even more correlated. Although no conductor would instruct or coordinate the group and each player would still maintain his or her style and role, the player’s overall productions would lead to a kind of mutually coherent music that each one acting alone would not produce.[1]

The model of mind conceptualized by Gerald Edelman shows us that the mind is an embodied substance which has the ability to adapt to changes surrounding it. If we keep in mind that cinema, literature, art, and music show how the mind works at a particular moment in history, as well as the emotional state of that particular moment, it becomes clear why a mode of enquiry rather than a specific method is required for the analysis and critique of human consciousness and its relation to the environment surrounding it. In this context, the plot driven critique of the literary and filmic texts aims at distinguishing between the world of consciousness and the world of appearances. My claim is that it is only through looking at the mortal world of appearances with the eyes of an immortal consciousness that we can see that which is present as an absence in the predominant symbolic order. By looking at “what happens when” in a movie or a book as well as “how that thing happens,” I sustain the conditions of impossibility as the conditions of possibility for cont(r)action to take place and give birth to an immortal subject. Needless to say, this subject is also an object encountering and encountered by the unknown within the known, the chaos inherent in the order itself, that calls forth he who has died so many times and is yet to die again and be reborn many more times so as to live as dead again. The reader might be disappointed because I will not have pursued and incorporated Edelman’s neural Darwinism and further developed the idea of a context-bound cognitive neuroscience and a matter(brain) based cultural and critical theory. The reason for this is that I discovered Edelman’s work towards the end of writing my thesis, and then  rewrote the Introduction. As a matter of fact, after this discovery the whole thesis itself could have been rewritten. Just as the Law changes its object and is in turn changed by that object, my critical apparatus, too, changes and is changed by its objects, in this case cultural products, be they filmic, literary or philosophical texts. It is such that this theoretical narrative moves on in such a way as to cut itself from its own past and unite with its own future at the same time, that is, in one simultaneous movement in two directions at once.

Hence it becomes clear why I pay attention to “what happens when” and “how that thing happens,” at the same time. For this I am indebted to Edelman who shifted the perspective of cognitive neuroscience from “how the brain makes sense,” to “when the brain makes sense.” If one reads the writings on film and literature in this thesis with the conscious naivety of their plot based critique in mind, one can sense the underlying current of humour and the erratic undertone of irony, both of which knock down the serious tone of the critique based on a linear reproduction of a circular plot – as we see in the investigation of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive for instance.

In his Critique of Judgement, Kant distinguishes between the determinative and the reflective modes of judgement.

If the universal (the rule, the principle, the law) is given, the judgement that subsumes the particular under it… is determinative. If, however, only the particular for which the universal is to be found is given, judgement is merely reflective.[2]

If we keep in mind that the reflective mode of judgement reflects on particulars in such a way as to produce universals to which they can be subjected, and that the determinative mode of judgement determines a particular by subjecting it to a universal, it becomes understandable why among these two I shall be using the reflective mode which splits as it unites the subject of enunciation and the enunciated subject. But it must be kept in mind that the subject of enunciation which refers to the universal is itself a constitutive illusion, or a regulatory idea necessary for the emergence of the immortal subject as the enunciated content. It is only in and through a position of non-mortality within and without mortal life at the same time that the exploitation of mortality can be brought into the spotlight. A critique of the exploitation of mortality inherent in particularly exemplary cultural products will be achieved through putting them in a perspective that analyzes the life death drives in such a way as to expose the exploitation of the fear of death as the driving force inherent in them. The point is that it is indeed necessary to fantasize being what one is not, in our case being non-mortal, to be able to become self-conscious of one’s self-reflexivity in the way of creating an order of signification not caught up in the rotary motion of drives locked in Klein’s projection-introjection mechanism,  but rather one which breaks this vicious cycle and at least attempts to subtract death from life in a counter-act to the post-structuralist idea of life as a process of dying and death as an absent presence in the midst of life. It is only through such a subtraction of the absent presence of death within life that the productive interaction between Deleuze’s transcendental empiricism, Foucault’s bio-politics, Badiou’s theory of infinity, and Kant’s reflective mode of judgement give birth to the immortal subject as the womb of a new thought, a new life, and a new mode of being, free of the exploitation of mortality and engagingly indifferent to this mortal, all too mortal life.

Let us imagine a subject who finds himself in a certain situation which appears to have no escape route; a situation which nails him to a painful existence and brings him closer to extinction with every move he makes. What he needs is Bion’s theory of creative process and the emergence of new thought from within the dominant projection-introjection mechanism. In his Theory of Thinking Bion says that dismantling is as important in creative process as integration, that is, introjection and splitting are as necessary as projective identification and unification. Bion pays special attention to the process of introjection and projective identification and recreates Klein’s paranoid-schizoid position as a way of showing that it has two forms; one is healthy and the other is pathological. For Klein it was only with the attainment of the depressive position that the formless experience was given a form, the thoughts were invested with symbolic meanings. Bion sees introjection and projective identification as the two separate but contiguous halves and the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions as the complementary parts of one another in the creative process. Now, if, following Bion, we think about Klein’s introjection and projective identification in the context of Derrida’s technique of deconstructive reading, we see that deconstruction is a mobile and dynamic mode of critique which moves between fragmentation and integration of the meaning of a text. Although deconstruction, as practised by Derrida himself, adapts itself to the internal dynamics of the text as the object of critique, it still lacks the affirmative and immanent fluidity which is necessary to open up holes, or passages, through which a new truth in touch with the requirements of the present situation can slip. This is because Derrida’s practice of deconstruction is still a negating activity and a transcendence oriented practice, which remains within the confines of the antagonistic relationship between the life drive and the death drive. To become affirmative, deconstructive practice needs to produce and incorporate its own difference from itself, that is, it has to become immanent to itself and the text it interprets.

As a mode of thinking, deconstruction attempts to erase the gap between the life drive and the death drive, but always fails, and this failure eternally confines deconstructive practice to the domain of antagonism between the life drive and the death drive. And if we keep in mind that deconstruction as a mode of thinking has become the dominant way of being creative we can understand why a critique of deconstruction is a critique of contemporary culture.

In this thesis I try to expose the workings of the deconstructive practice in certain works of art, literature, and cinema, which, consciously or unconsciously, exploit the ambiguity of the relationship between the life drive and the death drive, hence oppressing the one or the other. Needless to say this oppression of the one or the other necessarily exploits the one or the other, for oppression of the one requires exploitation of the other. As a consequence of this dynamic inherent in contemporary nihilistic culture projected onto the subject, the reader/spectator is removed out into the transcendental world of unconscious drives, leading to an illusory sense of omniscience on behalf of the reader/spectator.

The difference between deconstruction and affirmative recreation is that in the former an interaction between the destruction of a structure based on metaphysics of presence and creation of an opening, production of a void within the meaning of the text based on logocentrism is at work, whereas what is at work in the latter is a simultaneous dismantling of meaning, opening up of a void in the context of the text, and sustenance of the conditions for the possibility of the meaning’s flow in and through this void and out into the outside of the dominant context.[3] Derrida’s well known proposition that “there is nothing outside the text” is not the basic assumption of affirmative recreation; quite the contrary, a hole is opened within the context, and the meaning of the text flows through this hole. The meaning of the text is made to move on progressively, not just left without any foundations on which to stand and consequently fall. Deconstruction is concerned with exposing the rigidity and the solidity of rigid structures and solid constructions as is clear from its name. In a nutshell this is what Derrida’s self-reflexive reading strategy called deconstruction does: the socially and historically constructed and generally accepted dominant meaning of the text is explicated. And then this meaning is shown to be self-contradictory through the opening of a gap between what the author intended to say and what he has actually said. In affirmative recreation what’s at stake is a melting of the meaning and its continuous reshaping like a sculpture. The text is turned from a solid state into something like lava or clay and kept hot for further and perpetual reshaping, not into another completed sculpture. For me sculptures are products of an attempt to freeze life and/but a frozen life is no different from death.

 2. To What End Last Words? To What End Suffering…

Throughout this thesis I have tried to develop a mode of critique in and through which nothing is excluded and/or determined. This reflective mode of critique itself enabled me to situate myself in the middle of the reflective and the determinative modes of judgment. The critical mode employed in this thesis is still context-bound to a certain extent, and yet it tries to restrictively dissociate itself from the predetermined context, rather than freely associate within it. A new field is opened, the conditions are created for the possibility of a decision beyond the Law of Militarist Capitalism and the Welfare State driven by and driving the exploitation of mortality on a massive scale. There is this transcendental field that requires a non-mortal mode of being in the world, neither for nor against it, but indifferent to it in such a way as to turn its own alienation from mortality into its driving force in its attempt to demolish the faculty of finite judgment and create the conditions of possibility out of the conditions of impossibility for an infinite judgment to take place beyond the subject/object of a Law that is mortal, all too mortal.

A truth comes into being through those subjects who maintain a resilient fidelity to the consequences of an event that took place in a situation but not of it. Fidelity, the commitment to truth, amounts to something like a disinterested enthusiasm, absorption in a compelling task or cause, a sense of elation, of being caught up in something that transcends all petty, private or material concerns.[4]

The immortal subject within and without the pre-dominant symbolic order is not only the cause, but also the effect of its own alienation from mortal life. This regulatory idea of immortality, which is also a constitutive illusion, is inspired by the post-structuralist theme of becoming non-identical as we see in Deleuze and Derrida. If one could become non-identical, why would one not also become non-mortal? If one could become alienated from one’s identity, why would one not also become alienated from one’s mortality?  Why not become immortal so as to become capable of criticizing the exploitations of this mortal, all too mortal life? But what motivated me to take immortality as a virtual mode of being was Badiou’s theory of infinity which aimed at secularizing the concept of truth. Badiou’s technique of secularizing the truth is inspired by the 19th century mathematician Georg Cantor’s technique of secularizing the infinite. As Badio claims, the secularization of infinity started with Cantor who stated that there was not one, but many infinities varying in size and intensity. From then onwards it became possible to link Deleuze’s concepts of impersonal consciousness and transcendental empiricism with Badiou’s theory of infinity and Kant’s assertion that for reflective judgement to take place and turn the object into a subject a transcendental ground is necessary.  Now I can say that for me a transcendental ground is necessary only to the extent that it enables the subject to shake the foundation of its own mode of being and opens a field for immanent critique to take place. In other words, the untimely indifference of immortality is required in order to actively engage in an exposition of the exploitation of mortality in this time.

I don’t know if it is worth mentioning that in this time we are all slaves and yet some slaves dominate the others. Where time goes no one knows. There are necessary illusions in this life, some for life, some not. Both the extreme belief in civilized progress and barbaric regress are good for nothing. These two are now in the process of being left behind. A third possibility of developmental process is emerging in the form of a becoming-reconciled which is based on the recognition of the otherness of the other as it is, that is, prior to the additions and the subtractions imposed upon the self and the other, nature and culture, life and death. For a non-normative and progressive universality to work it is necessary for the participants to become capable of making distinctions between their natures and cultures, their cliniques and critiques. It is a matter of realizing that theory and practice are always already reconciled and yet the only way to actualise this reconciliation passes through carrying it out and across by introducing a split between the subject of statement (the enunciated) and the subject of enunciation.

It is indeed true that sometimes it takes a long journey to get there, where one eventually got at, and realise that one is other than one thinks itself to be. Apparently the numbers indeed start with zero and continue with two, but it takes time to realise this actuality and become capable of actualising this reality. Perhaps we should indeed know that absolute reconciliation is impossible and yet still strive to reconcile ourselves as much as we can to all the living and the dead.

Reference Matter

[1] Gerald Edelman,  A Universe of Consciousness: How Matter Becomes Imagination (New York: Basic Books, 2000), 49 

[2] Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment, trans. James Creed Meredith (London: Wilder Publications, 2008), 13

[3] It is important to note that here context signifies the dominant projection-introjection mechanism. To go outside this projection-introjection mechanism requires what Bion calls “the binocular vision.” Binocular vision means that the subject is still within the dominant context and yet he is also in touch with another mode of being which he is able to project onto the present and future. Binocular vision is the first step towards creating a new situation out of the present situation. Wilfred Bion,  A Theory of Thinking, Second Thoughts, (London: Karnac Books, 1984).

[4] Peter Hallward, “Introduction” in Alain Badiou, Ethics (London: Verso, 2002), x


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Excerpt from Ph.D. thesis…

Cengiz Erdem, The Life Death Drives (London: Lulu, 2009).

3 thoughts on “The Method and Consequences of The Life Death Drives

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