The Projection-Introjection Mechanism in Jack Kerouac’s The Subterraneans

The consequences of projection of fantasies onto the Real can be clearly observed in Kerouac’s The Subterraneans, which was quite a subversive book in its time, carrying Kerouac quite high up the cultural ladder, and in Burroughsian terms “causing thousands of Levi’s sold”.

In The Subterraneans we see Jack Kerouac’s persona Leo oscillating between attraction to and repulsion by Mardou who is a Cherokee American. One half of Leo loves Mardou and the other half is afraid of this love. If in one chapter Leo declares his love for Mardou, in the next chapter we see him resenting her. Leo’s oscillation between the life drive and the death drive constitute a movement between negation and the transcendence of this negation. Affirmation always remains at bay for Kerouac and his character Leo. Perhaps only at the beginning of the novel he gets a bit closer to affirmation, but this affirmation is in no way an affirmation of Mardou as she is. Rather, it is the affirmation of what has happened throughout the novel, an affirmation of that which has lead to the break-up of Mardou and Leo, as if what has taken place was what actually happened, rather than a projection of Leo’s paranoid fantasy on what has actually happened. At the end of the novel it becomes clear that all that has been lived had been lived for this novel to be written, rather than for its own sake.

[…] this was my three week thought and really the energy behind or the surface one behind the creation of the Jealousy Phantasy in the Grey Guilt dream of the World Around Our Bed.)—now I saw Mardou pushing Yuri with a OH YOU and I shuddered to think something maybe was going on behind my back – felt warned too by the quick and immediate manner Yuri heard me coming and rolled off but as if guiltily as I say after some kind of goose or feel up some illegal touch of Mardou which made her purse little love loff lips at him and push at him and like kids.[1]

Upon having the dream Leo begins to see everything through the keyhole of his obsession that one day Mardou will sleep with Yuri if she hasn’t already done so. I would like to read this story with the story of Adam and Eve’s fall from Heaven to Earth in mind, or the passage from the old Earth to the new Earth. What’s at stake here is the conflict between what’s going on in Leo’s mind as to what’s going on in Mardou’s mind and what’s really going on in Mardou’s mind. There is, in reality, nothing going on in Mardou’s mind. It is Leo projecting what he read in the Bible onto Mardou’s mind, what he read in the Bible being that it was Eve who caused the fall, for it was her who tempted Adam to eat the apple. So Leo is projecting what he has introjected from the Bible. And the Bible was the representation of women in general and his mother in particular for Kerouac. The preconception in Leo’s mind that women are evil, sinful, and guilty by nature both attracts and repels Leo. This state of being caught in a movement between repulsion/attraction ties the subject with an endless chain of negative associations to his own fear of being betrayed, pushing him further towards madness and death. The final words of the book bring the end which Leo was from the beginning of the relationship more than willing to reach: separation and through writing it down reunification with the lost object. For as we know from Freud, “writing was in its origin the voice of an absent person.”

And I go home having lost her love.

And write this book.[2]

  Leo believes that he has had the dream and that if he has the dream of it the sexual intercourse in real life has either taken place or will take place in the future. Kerouac/Leo is, “at present,” writing The Subterraneans. And everything has already taken place; the sequence of events follows this way: Leo has the dream, Mardou engages in sexual intercourse with Yuri, Mardou and Leo break up, Leo continues the daydream, laughs to retain sanity in the face of this tragedy, and goes home and writes this book. In it there is no true story; and it doesn’t matter whether there is or not a true story other than the story of an unhappy consciousness running towards its death in and through a story of love, affection, resentment, guilt, and compassion, which exposes the symptoms of a life as it unceasingly wills its subject’s end.

[…]still making no impression on my eager impressionable ready-to-create construct destroy and die brain – as will be seen in the great construction of jealousy which I later from a dream and for reasons of self-laceration recreated…[3]

Now, Leo sees Mardou in bed with Yuri and obsessively believes that his dream will come true. Leo believes himself to be a clairvoyant, that he has the ability to know things prior to seeing them actually taking place before his eyes. This he has introjected from Mardou herself, who, in a Nietzschean fashion, believes, does, and says things which simultaneously repel and attract Leo. There is no linear narrative in Mardou’s story about her adventures with the subterraneans of San Francisco and Leo likes it because there remain lots of gaps for him to fill with his fantasies later on when he is writing his story. Say what she may,

I got nervous and had some kind of idea about Mike, he kept looking at me like he wanted to kill me – he has such a funny look anyway – I got out of the house and walked along and didn’t know which way to go, my mind kept turning into the several directions that I was thinking of going but my body kept walking straight along Columbus altho’ I felt the sensation of each of the directions I mentally and emotionally turned into, amazed at all the possible directions you can take with different motives that come in, like it can make you a different person – I’ve often thought of this since childhood, of suppose instead of going up Columbus as I usually did I’d turn into Filbert would something happen that at the time is insignificant enough but would be like enough to influence my whole life in the end? – What’s in store for me in the direction I don’t take? – and all that, so if this had not been such a constant preoccupation that accompanied me in my solitude which I played upon in as many different ways as possible I wouldn’t bother now except but seeing the horrible roads this pure supposing goes to it took me to frights, if I wasn’t so damned persistent –’ and so on deep into the day, a long confusing story only pieces of which and imperfectly I remember, just the mass of the misery in connective form –[4]

What, then, is this “connective form”? Who, then, is the subject of this “mass of misery pieces of which are imperfectly remembered”? There is a different way of remembering in action here, a different way of being in relation to time and language in this “imperfect remembrance” of the lived experiences. The problem with Kerouac’s writing is that he is not separating his introjected object from the projecting subject. Kerouac wants to represent Mardou as she is and yet he at the same time wants to prove that Leo was the one pulling the strings from the beginning. What Mardou is actually trying to convey is veiled by Kerouac who makes it impossible for the reader to distinguish between fiction and reality, self and other, subject and object, projected and introjected. His voice dissolves into the voice of Mardou and Mardou’s story remains unheard. Rather than unveiling, Kerouac’s writing not only veils but also manipulates the truth of the other for his abusive purposes. All his life Kerouac struggled to traverse this field of partial representations of the other, but being an innocent fascist he repeatedly fell into his own traps and failed in affirming the real as it is. If he could have loved the real as it is, he could have “delivered himself from his automatic reactions,” and thus he could have become “a body without organs.”[5]

While most of us live by the time of good sense, the Nietzschean subject is able to defy such sense and experience the creative evolution of self in exploration of a deeper memory – the virtual memory of the pure past as the event of events of the eternal return. Rather than a self-identical self, the self of the third synthesis of time is a creatively evolving self who is able to genuinely affirm life as metamorphosis.[6]

Leo chooses to become partially mad, for Mardou is the other half of his madness. The internal theatre of Leo stages a sexual intercourse between Mardou and Yuri and/but although this intercourse has not yet taken place, Leo is assured that one day it will. Leo had started plotting ways of getting rid of Mardou three weeks prior to their split. Is this will a will to end the relationship that makes Leo see this dream? In other words, is the source of this dream a will-to-nothingness-oriented-hope, a wish that Mardou will engage in sexual intercourse with Yuri and the relationship will end that way? Or is the dream based on a will-to-nothingness-oriented-fear that Mardou does not, and has never loved Leo? These questions can be asked if one wants to know what the dream means, in other words these questions are interpretation oriented questions and my aim here is not to interpret Leo’s dream and understand what it means but rather to make use of this dream in understanding why this dream matters not only for The Subterraneans, but also for twentieth century philosophy, literature, cultural and critical theory, and psychoanalysis.

 Both Oedipus and Leo see themselves as innocent victims “caught in a trap set by the God.” Fiction and reality give birth to one another in each case. In Oedipus’ case the prophecy turns into truth, in Leo’s case a dream turns into reality. Leo believes in what he sees in his dream and he sees Mardou in bed with Yuri. And his strong belief, almost an obsession, that one day Mardou will sleep with Yuri gives birth to the actualisation of this event at the end of the novel. Leo tells everyone about his dream. He tells Mardou almost every day following his dream that he is worried about the future of their relationship. Leo’s paranoid-schizoid attitude prepares the grounds for the actualization of what he was afraid of. At the end of the story, the only thing left at hand for Leo to make the best of is to write his experiences down and turn his loss into a gain in and through language. Leo is such a tragic character that in order to remain sane he has to laugh at himself by considering the “whole host and foolish illusion and entire rigmarole and madness we erect in the place of one love, in our sadness…”[7] to be a joke. When Leo learns that Mardou has actually slept with Yuri, when the truth is finally established, when fiction turns into reality, he addresses the reader:

[…]but I continue the daydream and I look into his eyes and I see suddenly the glare of a jester angel who made his presence on earth all a joke and I realize that this too with Mardou was a joke and I think, ‘Funny Angel, elevated amongst the subterraneans.’

‘Baby its up to you,’ is what she’s actually saying, ‘ about how many times you wanta see me and all that – but I want to be independent like I say.’

And I go home having lost her love.

And write this book.[8]

Cover art from the film and soundtrack editions of THE SUBTERRANEANS. Cover art from the film and soundtrack editions of  The Subterraneans

Kerouac writes through love, but through a love that Leo is afraid of falling in. And his writing is the product of a sick desire, it is driven by a love of love, a desire to be desired. Kerouac exposes himself through Leo in such a way as to show why it is necessary to create something without becoming destructive of either the self or the other. Something that he himself doesn’t know how to do. It is an ill will that drives Kerouac towards manic-depressive, self-destructive alcoholism. His consciousness of the absence of “eternal love” in this finite life together with his immortal longing for an eternal love turn him into “a shipwreck on the shores of lust.” What Kerouac lacks in life is what is necessary to operate the war-machine in Kerouac. Love is the force that drives the war-machine and Kerouac is afraid of loving with a greater love, without projective identification. He is a paranoid love-machine because his love is in the form of a spark given birth by the struggle between the superiority and the inferiority complexes he simultaneously harbors within himself.

In the absence of a war–machine, war dominates the world. And when war dominates the world there is nothing left for one to write but that although his books are among the most important examples of a different way of being in relation to time, language, and life, Kerouac is “locked into an attenuating endgame, playing himself, with each move, further into a corner and into defeat.”[9] He, suffering inordinately from an irrecoverable loss, an irreparable deterioration of psychic and somatic health, pays a high price to render us the witnesses of his fantastic experiences.

Kerouac died in 1969 and/but long ago, in 1951, eighteen years before ceasing to exist among the living, in On the Road, he writes this:

And for just a moment I had reached the point of ecstasy that I always wanted to reach, which was the complete step across chronological time into timeless shadows, and wonderment in the bleakness of the mortal realm, and the sensation of death kicking at my heels to move on, with a phantom dogging its own heels, and myself hurrying to a plank where all the angels dove off and flew into the holy void of uncreated emptiness, the potent and inconceivable radiances shining in bright Mind Essence, innumerable lotus-lands falling open in the magic mothswarm of heaven. I could hear an indescribable seething soar which wasn’t in my ear but everywhere and had nothing to do with sounds. I realized that I had died and been reborn numberless times but just didn’t remember especially because the transition from life to death and back to life are so ghostly easy, a magical action for naught, like falling asleep and waking up again a million times, the utter casualness and deep ignorance of it. I realized it was only because of the stability of the intrinsic mind that these ripples of birth and death took place, like that action of wind on a sheet of pure, serene, mirror-like water. I felt sweet, swinging bliss, like a big shot of heroin in the mainline vein; like a gulp of wine late in the afternoon and it makes you shudder; my feet tingled. I thought I was going to die the very next moment.[10]

What Kerouac enjoys is death from pleasure, what he desires is suffering. In Kerouac’s writing there is a multiplication of the directions towards which it becomes possible for the subject to head as the subject goes along the way creating new life forces out of his Dionysiac regress. In time, however, Kerouac’s revolutionary becoming takes such a direction that his desire turns against itself turning him into a reactive force drowning in his own resentment. The Kerouac image represented by the media (newspapers, TV, radio), is in conflict with Kerouac’s image of himself, and this relation to himself of Kerouac through a media, through an external force, through a panoptic eye, locks Kerouac into the projection-introjection mechanism through which he constantly breaks and is beaten by as he beats. This operation is more than Kerouac can actively handle, and turns him into a reactive and anti-social person making him “rather will nothingness than not will,” destroying him in the process.

Conclusion

In Julio Cortazar’s short story Axolot, we read the main character realizing that the type of fish called Axolot stand still in water with no movement at all, a kind of motionless flight. With this realization the character commits himself to becoming like those fish himself. At the end of the story he sees everyone outside of himself as an Axolot fish. He has become an axolot himself. He has gone beyond the finitude of his existence. He becomes altogether immobile, merely an observer, watching people, life, opportunities, and time pass by. Eventually he becomes imperceptible. Here and now everything is continually changing towards becoming-imperceptible. Time turns something into nothing. Everything is in time only for a short period of time. Then everything disappears in a neutral light.

To have dismantled one’s self in order finally to be alone and meet the true double at the other end of the line. A clandestine passenger on a motionless voyage. To become like everybody else; but this, precisely, is a becoming only for one who knows how to be nobody, to no longer be anybody. To paint oneself gray on gray.[11]

It is the ambiguity of the relationship between the life drive and the death drive that is being manipulated by global capitalism (contemporary nihilism) today. Undecidability, absence of foundational truth procedures, loss of principles, and declarations of the end of history and the subject are all manifestations of a discursive disease which is very rapidly contaminating the relationship between humans and their own health. In a world where a normal person must have a therapist, where having a therapist is a sign of normalcy, there can be no other choice but to shake the foundations of the illusions on which the health of many generations to come depends.

Carrying out an intervention in the course of events, introducing a split into the continuity of things requires learning how not to be produced by the image factory which captures desire in a certain order of signification mechanism so as to turn the subject into a copy of the products of the image factory, or into the object of the other’s interpretation  and identification processes. To become capable at least to subvert the codes of the capitalist axiomatics which produces desire as the desire of nothingness and death, this subject should come to a realization that he/she is already caught up in the projection-introjection mechanism. So the subject has to learn to use the projection-introjection mechanism in such a way as to sustain the conditions for the impossibility of wickedness in the form of exclusive and illusory constructions of the Real. Surviving the absence of a transcendental signified in a “time out of joint” requires learning to love the object of desire for what it is rather than for what it resembles. This is to love and live without projective identification, without paranoid reactions to the other, without possessing the other, or without confining the other within the boundaries of the self. One has to cease to be somebody and learn to become nobody so as to create a difference in and for itself and affirm this difference by affirming the difference of that which is “not I.”

Movie from the book: “The subterraneans” (1960; Dir. Ranald MacDougall) featuring Gerry Mulligan, Art Pepper, Art Farmer, André Previn and Carmen McRae on screen.

The Subterraneans- Kerouac, Pollock and Bowie from magicloaf on Vimeo.

Cengiz Erdem, The Life Death Drives (London: Lulu.com, 2009), 210 – 220.

Kerouac'ın aşk müziği

Jack Kerouac’ın Türkçeye yeni çevrilen romanı ‘Yeraltı Sakinleri’ bu yıl okuyacağınız aşk romanlarının en afilisi. Roman, Beat Kuşağı’nın özgürleştirici anlatım tekniklerinin ilk uygulamasını da satırlarında barındırıyor. Kerouac, en ünlü kitabı ‘Yolda’yı üç haftada, ‘Yeraltı Sakinleri’ni üç günde yazmıştı.

Kerouac’ın aşk müziği – Kaya Genç (Radikal Kitap)


[1] Jack Kerouac, The Subterraneans (Penguin: London, 2001), 69

[2] Kerouac, The Subterraneans, 93

[3] Kerouac, 39

[4] Jack Kerouac, The Subterraneans, 20

[5]Antonin Artaud, Selected Writings, ed. Susan Sontag (University of California: Berkeley, 1975), 570-1 “When you will have made him a body without organs,

then you will have delivered him from all his automatic reactions and restored him to his true freedom

then you will teach him again to dance wrong side out

as in the frenzy of dancehalls

and this wrong side out will be his real place.”

[6] Tamsin Lorraine, “Living a Time Out of Joint,” Between Deleuze and Derrida, eds. Paul Patton and John Protevi (Continuum: London and NY, 2003), 39

[7] Kerouac, The Subterraneans (Penguin: London, 2001), 77

[8] Kerouac, 93

[9] J.M. Coetzee, Youth (Secker and Warburg: London, 2002), 169

[10] Jack Kerouac, On the Road(New York: The Viking Press, 1957), 173

[11] Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian Massumi (University of Minnesota Press: Minnesota, 1988), 197

Cengiz Erdem, The Life Death Drives (London: Lulu.com, 2009), 210 – 220.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s