Psychoanalysis and Difference: Alan Bass’s Generalization of Fetishism
Alan Bass is a training and supervising analyst at several psychoanalytic institutes in New York, and on the graduate philosophy faculty at the New School for Social Research. He is most known as the translator of four books by Jacques Derrida, a “first-generation student of deconstruction” (2000, vii). His two books under consideration here correspond to these two worlds: Difference and Disavowal is written for psychoanalytic clinicians, while Interpretation and Difference is written more for philosophers. The two books, however, are “really one” (2006, ix), and they do considerably more than build much needed bridges between these two worlds. They are rare works which succeed in bringing together sophisticated philosophy with a rigorous and subtle reading of psychoanalysis. Moreover, all of Bass’s work is grounded in the clinical practicality of a seasoned psychoanalyst, which is even more rare considering the philosophical sophistication and depth of his overall project. Bass brings together an expansion of psychoanalysis with an expansion of the philosophies of Nietzsche, Heidegger and Derrida. One can say about Bass’s project what Derrida (1995, p. 75) said about his own work in Archive Fever: it is a “crossing of a certain psychoanalysis with a certain deconstruction”. It should be added that Bass’s unique contributions here are many and crucial, since psychoanalysis is usually not in harmony with deconstruction, and deconstruction has never before attempted a metapsychological reworking of psychoanalysis.
Bass also notes that Derrida “described his own work as ‘an inconceivable union of Heidegger and Freud'” (Bass 2006, p. xiii). According to Bass (2006, p. 34), “Heidegger is essential to a psychoanalysis whose theory and practice must understand the constraints of metaphysics”, and Bass makes it clear that the same is true for Nietzsche, to whom psychoanalysis owes an often unacknowledged debt.(1) Bass’s project goes beyond making a union between Freud and Heidegger conceivable; he makes the rigorous bringing together and expansion of Nietzsche, Freud, Heidegger and Derrida seem necessary for any serious philosophy, psychology and therapy. Bass’s general project is an expansion of ideas he presented in his 1993 essay, “Pyschopathology, Metaphysics” (Bass 1990), where he links both psychopathology and metaphysics to the disavowal of difference: “Heidegger’s overall conception that metaphysics is constituted by a necessary forgetting, or more strongly, oblivion, attracts the analyst” (p. 202). The difference to which metaphysics must remain oblivious, according to Heidegger, is the difference between Being (Sein) and beings (Seiende). As Bass’s two titles make clear, difference is his primary theme, which is in line with Nietzsche and Heidegger, and with what Derrida called the “truth without truth of deconstruction” (1996, p. 34): “If … there were … a sole thesis of ‘Deconstruction,’ it would pose divisibility: difference as divisibility” (1996, p. 33). Bass shows psychopathology to be modeled on metaphysics. Both psychopathology and metaphysics require the forgetting of “difference as divisibility” and the forgetting of the temporal disruptions to objective time difference requires: what Derrida calls “différance,” his neologism combining deferral and difference. Bass writes, “Derrida radicalizes difference itself as différance, the nonpresent, spatiotemporal force that produces effects of difference” (2006, p. xiii).
Bass looks deeply into the myriad problems metaphysics causes for psychoanalysis, theoretically and practically. Although embedded in metaphysics, psychoanalysis has played a major role in the general philosophical attempt to understand some of the crucial problems of metaphysics-for example, how the privileging of consciousness stifles attempts to understand unconscious forces, and therefore alleviate psychological suffering. Bass argues that the “large paradox of [Freud’s] thought is that it challenges the privilege of consciousness without challenging the privilege of presence,” whereas for “Derrida there is no possibility of a critique of consciousness without a critique of presence” (2006, pp. 99-100). Bass’s work does much more than make more clear the problems caused by the metaphysics of presence: it offers a thorough and systematic situating of the subject with respect to metaphysics, difference, time, unconscious processes, sexuality and therapy. In other words, Bass gives us a general, nonmetaphysical theory of the subject grounded in clinical work. Given the thoroughness and depth of Bass’s treatment, these two books together constitute one of the great achievements of both psychoanalytic and philosophical writing of recent times.
Bass’s Generalization of Fetishism: Primary Disavowal
The forgetting of difference Bass focuses on is the disavowal or splitting of the fetishist, the disavowal of (sexual) difference. Though the dominant Freudian form of forgetting is repression, Bass zeroes in on a “less well-known aspect” of Freud’s thought found in his late work, particularly his essay, “Splitting of the Ego in the Process of Defense,” and his book, An Outline of Psycho-Analysis, both written in 1938 and published posthumously in 1940. It is in the latter work where Freud, according to Bass, “began to consider all of psychopathology in terms of fetishism” (1993, p. 211) and disavowal (the registration and repudiation of reality). Freud began a generalization of fetishism, but did not, or was unable to, work toward the paradigm shift such a generalization requires: the shift from a psychoanalysis based on primary repression to a psychoanalysis based on primary disavowal. Since the registration and repudiation of difference required by metaphysics is ubiquitous, both Derrida and Bass are interested in a generalization of fetishism. As Bass points out early in Difference and Disavowal, “Derrida proposed a generalization of fetishism from a philosophical point of view” (2000, p. viii).
Not only did Freud have these insights into the importance of splitting and disavowal near the end of his life, there was also what Bass calls “a major inconsistency” in Freud’s late understanding of disavowal, and the theory of fetishism it was based on. This inconsistency seems to have blocked Freud’s full appreciation of the significance of some of his important ideas and the paradigm shift they call for. Bass argues that Freud’s concept of the reality that is disavowed by the fetishist-the “reality of castration,” as Freud says of the child’s image of the mother-is a fantasy since the mother is not in fact castrated. Since this is a fantasy of castration, Freud’s fetishist actually oscillates between two fantasy positions of phallic monism-castrated and not castrated-rather than between a fantasy and reality.(2) Freud’s theory of fetishism is itself fetishistic, a disavowal of difference since it replaces the reality of (sexual) difference with a fantasy of (phallic) oppositionality. From a philosophical point of view, the fetishistic fantasy of phallic monism (noncastration/castration) is the dominant phallic version of the more general fetishistic fantasy of what Derrida calls logocentrism or the metaphysics of presence (presence/absence). Phallic monism and logocentrism combine to make what Derrida called “phallogocentrism.” With fetishism, divisibility is defended against by oppositional, defensive splitting; fetishism transforms the active process of sexual difference as divisibility into a fantasy of decidable oppositionality and duality.
Despite this major inconsistency-Freud’s “concrete” or fetishistic theory of fetishism based on “the reality of castration”-Bass argues that Freud’s theory still recognized the importance of unconscious registration and repudiation of reality, and the necessity of oscillation between two mutually exclusive beliefs in order to maintain them both at the same time. Oscillation as undecidability is important to both Derrida and Bass on fetishism. As with divisibility and the oppositionality that defends against it, oscillation is generalizable. Wherever there is the metaphysical fantasy of distinct poles of oppositionality-me/you, mind/body, presence/absence, male/female, inside/outside, active/passive, life/death, etc.-there is hidden undecidability or oscillation. This follows Derrida’s analysis of fetishism in Glas (1986) where, according to Bass, he demonstrates “how Freud brushes up against nonmetaphysical thinking without realizing it, when the oscillation of the fetish leads to undecidability” (2006, p. 120). Derrida’s treatment of Freud on fetishism in Glas, however, is uncharacteristically incomplete since Derrida, according to Bass, “seems unaware of Freud’s own generalization of fetishism at the end of his life” (2006, p. 120). So neither Freud nor Derrida was able to complete any kind of thorough generalization of fetishism. Bass’s generalization of fetishism extends both Freud’s and Derrida’s treatments of the topic: beyond Freud’s own fetishism that can’t see difference beyond the fantasy of phallic monism, but also beyond two aspects of Derrida’s work: beyond his omission of Freud’s later work on fetishism, and beyond Derrida’s “economy of the undecidable” that limits oscillation to the fantasy of phallic monism. In other words, Derrida’s fetishism oscillates only on one level, whereas Bass’s generalization of fetishism has two levels of oscillation: one between “intolerable difference and the fantasy of phallic monism” and the other “within the two positions of phallic monism” (p. 122).
Difference and Disavowal: The Trauma of Eros
Besides the importance of splitting as a process of defense, Freud’s theory of fetishism also introduced a radically different conception of the relationship of the unconscious to reality. Bass begins Difference and Disavowal by simply asking how we should understand patients who resist the very therapy they go to analysis to get. Bass sees disavowal as the most basic and common defense of these “concrete” patients, and explores Freud’s early and late writing on fetishism which, as Bass puts it, examines “the kind of perverse relation to the external world in which one simultaneously does and does not know something” (2006, p. ix): “A fantasy can be applied like a patch over the objectionable reality. But the very existence of such a defensive patch indicates that the reality is known” (ibid.). The unconscious of disavowal always has to be related to reality, and therefore constantly involved in this process of registration and repudiation of a differentiating and tension-increasing reality-a processive reality. Though seemingly missed by early reviewers, Bass clearly states this central thesis early in Difference and Disavowal(3):
The idea of unconscious registration of reality has to change our conventional sense of reality as much as the theory of repression changed our conventional sense of mind. This is my most general theme. (p. 9)
Bass argues that those analysts who remain stuck in the objectivist view of reality Hans Loewald called “natura naturata” (1988)-and therefore are unable to imagine, let alone embrace, “a view of nature as process, natura naturans” (2000, 267)-will remain stuck, to some degree, in a folie à deux with their patients. Bass contends that patients who defend against interpretation per se actively register and repudiate the difference that makes meaning possible. This “reality of difference” cannot be objectified, which is why Bass calls it “processive.” If the analyst interprets from the position that reality is simply objectivity, he or she is just as concrete as a concrete patient. Bass advocates a shift in technique so that the analyst’s interpretations can address disavowal and splitting employed as dedifferentiating process.
Although Bass focuses on the late Freud for his rethinking the paradigm shift within psychoanalysis-away from repression and toward disavowal as the primary defense mechanism-he looks broadly to Freudian theory in general for his masterful reworking of the “psychic apparatus”: primary narcissism, the autoerotic overvaluation of one’s own body, mastery, wish, binding, unconscious thought, unconscious time, temporal immediacy, perceptual identity, and self preservation, among many other Freudian concepts which were not thought through with respect to unconscious registration and repudiation of difference. Bass’s project is part of a post-Freudian tradition that is interested in a reworking of, and refocusing on, the preoedipal, especially in Ferenczi, Klein, Winnicott and Loewald.
Difference and Disavowal’s second chapter, “Narcissism, Thought, and Eros,” is a clarification and extension of Freud’s concepts of narcissism, unconscious thought, wish, and Eros, with a particular emphasis on clarifying, situating, and expanding Freud’s concept of primary narcissism. Bass revisits the origin of infantile sexuality in the hungry baby’s experience of satisfaction and memory of that experience, which subsequently establishes the basis of desire, wishes, the primary process, the pleasure principle, and ego functioning. Bass shows how Ferenczi’s 1913 paper, “Stages in the Development of the Sense of Reality,” preceded his own reworking of Freud with respect to the theme of linking infantile sexuality, narcissism, and the relation of the unconscious to reality:
Ferenczi’s argument is that just as the baby’s cry also seems to produce a match between wish and experience, so all wishing, due to its intrinsic connection to positive and negative hallucination, can make apparently realistic efforts to bring relief conform to the fantasy of omnipotence. Therefore, each phase of infantile sexuality, with its characteristic wishes, will also lead to characteristic conflations of reality and fantasy. Wherever there is an autoerotic, infantile wish there is also a narcissistic reality organization. We find [in Ferenczi’s paper] another important link between (narcissistic) omnipotence and wish fulfillment, a major extension of Freud’s idea of the autoeroticism (narcissism) inherent to infantile sexuality. (2000, p. 69)
Ferenczi’s insights here preceded by one year Freud’s summation of his thoughts on narcissism in 1914. His argument that “wish fulfillment in general produces states of consciousness dominated by narcissistic control of the difference between fantasy and reality” provides “an important insight into the role of narcissism and repudiation of difference in the dynamics of neurosis” (2000, p. 70).
Difference and Disavowal is significantly inspired by Loewald for his attempt to bring to psychoanalysis a “conception of reality other than the usual objective or subjective ones” (p. 148). Loewald does this by focusing on Freud’s point that “the opposition between the instinct of self-preservation and the sexual instincts is inadequate from the point of view of Eros” (p. 133). For Loewald, reality should be theorized with respect to primary narcissism and be seen as developmental and dynamic. Bass notes that, for Loewald, the border between inside and outside develops into a “membrane,” so there is, in Bass’s words, “continued possibility of permeable division between inside and outside” (p. 95), fantasy and reality. The membrane is primary reality, the basis for the relationship of the psychic apparatus to reality. For both Bass and Loewald, Eros should be understood in a way that moves psychoanalysis, in Loewald’s words, “away from an opposition between instinctual drives and ego” (1980, p. 235) since Eros is a basic aspect of both. Bass is interested in Loewald’s synthesis of primary narcissism and Eros, and his recognition of how Eros is still, as Loewald wrote, one of “the two basic tendencies or ‘purposes’ of the psychic apparatus” (ibid.), his recognition of how both Eros and primary narcissism are both “forces of integration with environment” (p. 188). Like Loewald before him, Bass is interested in revisiting the Freudian conception of the drives as unconnected to environment. Bass quotes Loewald:
[I]nstinctual drives organize environment and are organized by it no less than is true for the ego and its reality. It is the mutuality of organization, in the sense of organizing each other, which constitutes the inextricable inter-relatedness of “inner and outer world.” (ibid.)
Loewald’s synthesis of Eros and primary narcissism, particularly his notion of “mutuality of organization,” seems to be a radical departure from classical theory. For Bass, however, Loewald’s synthesis is incomplete since Loewald assumes a “‘tensionless’ primary narcissism” (p. 97) dominated completely by wish-fulfillment and tension reduction. Loewald seems to neglect the fact that, in addition to being a force of integration, Eros also raises tension levels. This is no minor assumption on Loewald’s part. Bass says that the “great change” in his own conception of the unconscious related to primary narcissism “is that it ‘thinks’ in nonrepresentational terms (increases tension), as well as wishes (decreases tension)” (p. 122).
Loewald’s assumption of an original tensionless state means that he does not theorize anxiety and defense in relation to primary narcissism. Although Bass thinks that Loewald’s “theory of enactive remembering-the replacement of dedifferentiating primary process for differentiating integration with environment-adds a crucial dimension to the generalization of fetishism” (p. 146), he also thinks that “Loewald did not account for the potentially traumatizing aspect of primary reality or for the anxiety that motivates defense against registration of it” (ibid.). Bass turns to the work of Melanie Klein because she is focused on early anxiety, but her theory also assumes original undifferentiation: it is all death drive. Unlike Loewald and Klein, Bass stresses the importance of not theorizing the early infantile or original state as undifferentiated. This original stage that establishes the foundation of the psychic apparatus and its relation to reality must be made up of both tension-reducing wish fulfillment (the death or disintegration principle) and tension-raising Eros (the life or integration principle). It must also be always open to tension-raising reality, and therefore to anxiety.
Bass spends considerable time on Winnicott because he is interested in three related issues: first, the contrast between Winnicott’s idea of transitional phenomena and his own idea of fetishism; second, Winnicott’s connection of depressive anxiety to environment; and third, that “Winnicott invaluably attempts to understand how inner and outer can be both separate and interrelated” (p. 208). Bass argues, however, that Winnicott, like every psychoanalyst considered here before him, “cannot free himself from a conventional conception of reality” (p. 205) or environment, which invariably ends up producing “symptomatically inconsistent” (193) theories. Whereas the problem for Loewald and Klein was the assumption of undifferentiation, for Winnicott the primary problem is an undifferentiated conception of play and maternal care-or, we might say, a conception of care and play as simply good, simply pleasurable, never painful. Winnicott sees that transitional phenomena can turn into fetishes, and (like Klein) he thinks of anxiety as starting very early. But, Bass writes, the “transitional object, for Winnicott, is the fetish viewed from the side of ‘normality.’ However, he seems unaware of Freud’s late thinking about fetishism in relation to reality” (p. 199). Like Loewald, Winnicott does not theorize play and transitional phenomena in general in terms of defense and tension. Such theorizing would call for an understanding of how transitional phenomena “contain their own tensions” (p. 209) since they are intermediate in nature. Though “Winnicott’s rethinking of the depressive position [extends] Loewald’s conception of primary narcissism and Eros as forces of integration with environment” (p. 188), Bass also finds him “temperamentally and theoretically” incapable of conceiving “that there could be a traumatic aspect of care” (p. 193).
Is there a traumatic aspect of care? Even with Bass’s Heideggerian conception of “care” in Interpretation and Difference-a form of angst-ridden, uncanny being-with-others, a function of Eros-wouldn’t moving from angst to trauma rule out any being-with-others if trauma is thought of as an overwhelming amount of tension increase? Could a form of “care” that is potentially traumatic be generalized to include analytic or maternal care? Bass argues it must. These questions touch on the (im)possibility of analysis, a central theme of Bass’s project, which I return to below. Bass argues convincingly that there is necessarily a painful aspect of maternal and analytic care since these types of care would necessarily be a function of Eros and openness to differentiating (painful) reality. But then, isn’t the issue more the pain of Eros rather than the trauma of Eros? My one significant criticism of Bass’s work is that he does not do more to differentiate pain and trauma, especially given the huge potential his general project holds for theorizing trauma with respect to a revised conception of the relationship between the unconscious and reality-that is, retheorizing trauma both psychoanalytically and “beyond the pleasure principle,” as Freud once set out to do.
Bass seems to be attracted to the Greek roots of “trauma”-“wound” and “to pierce.” Laplanche and Pontalis are clear that “the implication of the skin being broken is not always present” (p. 465) in Freud’s use of the term, and that the “the idea of consequences affecting the whole organization” (p. 466, my emphasis) is central to Freud’s use of Trauma-which is what we find in the Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis where, as with Bass, Freud is interested in trauma in terms of its economic function:
[T]he term “traumatic” has no other sense than an economic one. We apply it to an experience which within a short period of time presents the mind with an increase of stimulus too powerful to be dealt with or worked off in the normal way, and this must result in permanent disturbances of the manner in which the energy operates. (Freud 1917, p. 275)
So trauma would occur when “the mind” (“the whole organization”) is incapable of the repudiation of reality. Here Freud is working out the relationship of trauma to neuroses, particularly to fixation. He starts by discussing trauma or war neuroses, and admits that he and the other psychoanalysts had yet to succeed in 1917 in bringing these types of neuroses “in harmony with our views” (p. 274). He is also careful to differentiate the traumatic neuroses caused by war, railway accidents, etc., and the example he gives of a neurosis caused by a “little girl’s being in love like this with her father,” which he sees as something “so common and so frequently surmounted that the term ‘traumatic’ applied to it would lose all its meaning” (p. 275). Freud is careful to differentiate between what causes pain or unconscious conflict and what is traumatizing.
Since Bass is focused on primary narcissism, he could argue that the increase in tensions he is concerned with mostly would be more than just painful, but potentially traumatic since the “organization” of primary narcissism is quite vulnerable to even small or “normal” increases of tension. In other words, these small increases of tension, when they happen on the level of primary narcissism, as they do with concrete patients, would be potentially traumatic since the “organization” would be potentially very vulnerable. Therefore relatively small amounts of tension increase are in fact potentially traumatic even though they would be extremely small when compared to, for example, the effects on the psyche of a nearby bomb exploding, as with the sufferers of war neuroses, trauma neuroses, and shell shock. Bass supports this conception clinically. When “concrete” patients feel the differentiating effect of interpretation, they respond with near traumatic levels of anxiety.
With his revision of primary narcissism in terms of primary disavowal, Bass is concerned with the very foundation of “the whole organization”: the establishment of the foundation of the “psychical apparatus” and its relationship to the environment, particularly with respect to memory, since memory, according to Derrida, is “not a psychical property among others” but “the very essence of the psyche” (1978b, p, 201). Freud’s term Bahnung (translated by Strachey as “facilitation” and by Bass as “breaching” and “pathway”) seems similar to “piercing” and is central to Derrida’s reading of Freud’s Project for a Scientific Psychology (1895), and his understanding of the Freudian “psychical apparatus” as a writing machine. It is in the Project for a Scientific Psychology that Freud, according to Bass,
.. emphasized that unconscious memory depends upon the opening of pathways via the overcoming of a resistance. This is why he thought pain would be particularly responsible for laying down memory traces. At the same time, Freud also postulated that the registration of the experience of satisfaction opened a pathway in unconscious memory that could later be recathected (the wish). In the Project then … the foundations of unconscious memory are the registration of the realities of pain and the experience of satisfaction. It is also clear that there can be primal, unconscious repudiation of such unconscious registrations. (2000, p. 62)
This Freudian understanding of the relationship of memory, painful registrations of reality, and the establishment of the pleasure principle via the original experience of satisfaction, then, is the foundation of Bass’s theory of the psychical apparatus, and a crucial place where psychoanalysis and deconstruction intersect.(4) Derrida shows that, for Freud, it “is the difference between breaches [Bahnung, facilitations] which is the true origin of memory, and thus of the psyche” (1978b, p. 201). Derrida sees Freud as theorizing the unconscious in terms of inscription, difference, force and pain: memory and psyche as the product of “resistance, and precisely, thereby, an opening to the effraction of the trace” (ibid.). Bass explains that as “nonpresent, but as ‘registered’ (to use Freud’s word), difference is ‘trace'” (2006, p. xiii). The differences in forces write memory, and therefore write “the very essence of the psyche.” If the intensity of the tension increase of one Bahnung at the level of primary narcissism is too great, it could disrupt “the organization” of differences between breaches, especially when this memory-organization, this psyche, is relatively young, simple, and not yet well defended-or when an older psyche is overly dependent on fetishistic defenses. This may be why Bass does not take pains to differentiate between pain and trauma at the level of primary narcissism: at this level, lacking in more effective defenses, what might otherwise be a minor tension increase may disrupt a delicate organization of differences. But, since he is advocating a generalization of fetishism, it would seem that increases in tension that do not threaten the primary narcissism organization should be differentiated as painful, rather than as traumatic, for the “normal” fetishist, or with respect to normal fetishes. The issue would more generally be “the pain of Eros,” though it seems care would be “strange” or Unheimlich in any case.
Regardless of whether or not the analysand in question is a concrete patient, whether or not the difference of interpretation and the increase in tension on the level of primary narcissism caused by its registration causes pain or trauma, Bass makes clear that his generalization of fetishism requires a serious shift in technique towards “analysis of surface, analysis of defense,” the title of the fifth chapter of Difference and Disavowal. Bass’s generalization of fetishism leads him to say that “[c]oncrete patients reveal a general characteristic of all patients, just as fetishism reveals the general structure of compromise formation” (p. 268). Bass’s “internalization anxiety”-the near panic state experienced when concrete defenses are modified-is a type of existential anxiety. These ideas are the high stakes of the paradigm shift from primary repression to primary disavowal: “Once repression itself is secondary in relation to disavowal, the repression is made possible, and sustained by, the disavowal of difference” (p. 230). Bass focuses on how “the two most familiar rules of Freudian analysis became start from the surface and interpret defense before content” (p. 211), and how these rules work even better for a psychoanalysis of primary disavowal than they do for the repression-based psychoanalysis from whence they sprang. This suggests that Freud suspected that there was something inadequate about his repression-based theory as he developed his technique. Bass argues that with defensive and unconscious enactive remembering Freud came “up against the intrinsic limitation of the repression model” (p. 215):
[Freud] knows that action is related to conflict between patient and analyst over the possibility of interpretation, but he does not conceive of dynamic reasons why a patient might resist interpretive help. Here we have the entire problem of defense against integration with the environment-specifically the analytic environment. If we take environment as the surface context of analysis, we can begin to conceive of defense organized against registration of the surface. (pp. 215-216)
Freud is unable to make these connections because he doesn’t think in terms of the dynamics of resistance to interpretation, and he could not have thought “about surface in terms of primary narcissism, Eros, and unconscious registration of difference” (p. 216). Freud did, however, begin to think of resistance and repetition in terms of the maintenance of secondary narcissism, but Bass wishes he had connected these to primary narcissism, and that includes the primary narcissism within secondary narcissism.
Freud did connect resistance and repetition to the death drive. For Bass, the death drive is the “drive to dedifferentiating action” and “the defensive counterpart to the drive to differentiating integration with environment” or Eros. Difference and Disavowal gives us a thoroughly theorized connection of the most abstract aspects of metapsychology with the most practical aspects of clinical technique. Primary disavowal leads to an element of concreteness, of fetishism, an element that precedes neurosis, and therefore must be taken into account when working with all patients. The reality that is repudiated during analysis is the interaction with the analyst and his or her interpretations, the surface. This reality raises tension levels, is in league with Eros, and works toward “memory as internalization” (p. 221). The drive toward dedifferentiation, the death drive, resists the surface difference of analytic time-it repeats, remembers, acts out painful experiences within a time of dreams and their perceptual identities, and defends against “memory as internalization.” Interpreting content before surface neglects to take into account the internalization anxiety on the level of primary narcissism. “[P]attern matching” is the typical example of “the analyst’s own [fetishistic] attempt to exert omnipotent control,” a very common form of countertransference as “enactive interpretation” (ibid.). One very powerful aspect of Bass’s theory is that all aspects of the analytic process-interpretation, action, words, time, the frame, etc.-can be thought in terms of whether they are differentiating or dedifferentiating, tension-raising or tension-reducing. Bass universalizes fetishism in a way that is both philosophical and very practical.
Interpretation and Difference: The Strangeness of Care
With respect to technique, Bass’s generalization of fetishism cannot be separated from a radical reconceptualization of interpretation. It is here that Bass is much more in harmony with Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Derrida than he is with Freud, whose focus “on the repression of the objectified mental concepts, on wish fulfillments, fantasies, drives … mistakenly assumed that interpretation itself could be objectified” (2006, p. 136). Laplanche and Pontalis are right that interpretation “is at the heart of Freudian doctrine and technique” (p. 227), but this is also where Freud is most embedded in metaphysics, since Freud’s theory of interpretation cannot be separated from his conception of the psyche as deterministic, structured on a center of truth. Freud’s theory of interpretation betrays his revolutionary undermining of self-presence by being based on an economy of reason.
Derrida cites Freud as one of the primary shakers of the metaphysical economy of reason with his “critique of self-presence, that is, the critique of consciousness, of the subject, of self-identity and self-proximity or self-possession” (1978a, p. 280). Yet Derrida is also theoretically reticent “to utilize Freudian concepts, otherwise than in quotation marks: all these concepts, without exception, belong to the history of metaphysics” (1978b, p. 200). How is it that there can be two diametrically opposed Freuds? How is it that Freud can be responsible for a critique of self-presence when his theory of interpretation is an extension of the metaphysics of presence, an extension of a conception of the unconscious as part of the economy of reason?
After my first reading of Difference and Disavowal, I was critical of Bass’s claim that “the Freudian tradition can be renewed from within” (p. vii) since, like Derrida, I felt the metaphysical Freud is too dominant.(5) After my first reading, the end result of Difference and Disavowal for me-then later with Interpretation and Difference-seemed more a psychoanalytic deconstruction than a deconstructive psychoanalysis. After further and closer readings, however, I see now that Bass is able to take seriously Freud’s radical critique of self-presence, and at the same time to recognize where Freud is embedded in metaphysics. Bass does more than take seriously this undecidability of Freud: he also takes seriously the radical possibilities or potentialities of Freud, which he shows as inherent but mute within Freud’s work. More than once Bass quotes Freud’s letter to Wilhelm Fliess where he writes: “I have just acquired Nietzsche, in whom I hope to find words for much that remains mute in me” (1985, p. 398). With some help from Derrida-but also often going beyond Derrida’s reading of Freud-Bass finds these Nietzschean words, and then some. Bass’s Nietzschean-Heideggerian-Derridean reworkings of Freud seem true to something basic to Freud, while his additions to Freud seem like faithful extensions-that is, faithful to a certain Freud, a more radical Freud, the Freud to whom Derrida and Bass do indeed owe a significant debt. There are both reactionary and revolutionary aspects to what is basic to Freudian theory, and accordingly there is a difference between Bass’s Freud and Bass’s Derrida, Heidegger, and Nietzsche: the end result of Bass’s project rarely counters basic aspects of the philosophers’ theories, (Heidegger on technology as one major exception here), whereas Bass’s nonmetaphysical interpretative therapy requires an unconscious that is always directly in relation to reality, processive, and that is temporal, noncausal, nonrepresentational, and nondeterministic, inspired by “Nietzschean affirmation,” difference and play. Such an unconscious does not mesh with Freud’s conception of interpretation or the repression-representation-deterministic unconscious on which it is based, but it is “within” the potentialities of Bass’s faithful expansion of Freud’s beginnings of a generalization of fetishism.
In accordance with these two Freuds, Derrida argues that there are two conceptions of interpretation, “two interpretations of interpretation”: one is causal and corresponds to the center-without-play of “logocentric repression,” the metaphysical Freud, or a “nostalgia” for a lost center for those who know but disavow that “the centre cannot hold” (Yeats); the other is noncausal and corresponds to the Freudian critique of self-presence, the “Heideggerian destruction of metaphysics,” and a Nietzschean affirmation that “determines the noncenter otherwise than as the loss of the center” (1978a, p. 292):
The one [interpretation of interpretation] seeks to decipher, dreams of deciphering a truth or an origin which escapes play…. The other, which is no longer turned toward the origin, affirms play and tries to pass beyond man and humanism, the name of man being the name of that being who, throughout the history of metaphysics, or of ontotheology … has dreamed of full presence, the reassuring foundation, the origin and the end of play. (1978a, p. 292)
Freud’s “scientific psychology” “dreamed of full presence” but was haunted by “radically nonpresent différance” (Bass 2006, p. 99). Freud’s “dream book” was his theory of interpretation and of the unconscious. The Interpretation of Dreams argued for the totality of the pleasure principle and determinism; hence, the apparatus became closed to world and the play of chance that comes with openness. The truth at this center is castration, (what Derrida called “castration-truth” (1987, p. 441) in his critique of Lacan’s phallogocentrism), just as restricted fetishism is a way of taming the play of différance with phallic oppositionality, a way of establishing the fantasy of a center and origin. However, starting with the Project, Freud cannot help but “demonstrate … without knowing it … radically nonpresent différance … at the heart” (2006, p. 99) of his “psychical apparatus.”
Like Derrida, Bass argues that we “cannot choose between” these two interpretations (or these two Freuds) and asks us to think “causal interpretation with noncausal interpretation” (2006, p. 98). For Nietzsche, Freud, Heidegger, Derrida, and Bass, theories of interpretation correspond to the theory of the “subject,” the “psychic apparatus,” and/or Da-sein, and to the general philosophy of each. It is prudent at this point, therefore, to get a better sense of Bass’s take on (and debt to) the others in question here, in order to understand how he theorizes interpretation with respect to his “revised metapsychology of fetishism,” and how all this corresponds to his conception of the “psychical apparatus,” and of Da-sein, and to his situating of the metaphysical subject.
Interpretation and Difference starts out with Nietzsche’s often misunderstood concepts of will to power and eternal return, which Bass explains as two parts of the same concept, and as always thought in terms of difference. Bass looks to Gilles Deleuze’s Nietzsche and Philosophy (1983) and his reading of Nietzsche’s will to power as “a way of understanding all phenomena in terms of conflicts between nonconscious differentials of force” (p. xiii), and therefore as a factor of pain. For Nietzsche, pleasure is a “kind of pain” (1968, §490). Whether it is experienced as pain or pleasure depends on the amount of pain, and on its temporality:
If will to power is the unconscious interrelation of differentials of force, and if the repetition of difference is its temporality, then will to power has to be conceived as a rhythm of “pleasurepain.” Thus, Nietzsche calls pleasure “a rhythm of small stimuli” (§687). Too much is overwhelming; too little is dedifferentiating. (p. 22)
Bass focuses on Nietzsche’s notion that “everything breaks open” (1968, §1057; ID, p. 8) with eternal return, and on how “Nietzsche means ‘everything’ literally” (ibid.). Eternal return is not the “eternal return of the identical” but the “eternal return of the same,” where Nietzsche’s “same,” as Bass explains with help from Deleuze, “is difference itself” (p. 10). Eternal return here is the temporality of will to power, “a thinking of time as repetition that applies to everything” (ibid.), “the temporality of the inter-relatedness of all differentials of force” (p. 10), the opposite of a timeless unconscious. These two concepts make up the non-essential, non-original core of Bass’s reworking of the “psychic apparatus” and its processive reality, particularly with respect to primary narcissism and Eros.
As a drive toward openness and differentiation, Eros is also a drive toward pain, or a drive toward pleasurepain in the “before” of the pleasure principle. With the continuous registration of difference, unconscious tension levels will always rise. In addition to disrupting the “indifference to reality” (Laplanche and Pontalis, p. 476) of the traditional Freudian unconscious, Bass’s paradigm shift to primary disavowal also disrupts the traditional characteristics of the repression-based unconscious of “exclusive subordination to the principle of pleasure” (ibid.)-that is, to tension reduction. Bass also goes against tradition by associating binding, tension-raising and Eros with the unconscious instead of consciousness, which corresponds to his association of primary narcissism with openness to reality. All of these changes to traditional psychoanalysis grow out of Bass’s focus on Eros: his serious treatment of it, his demarginalizing of it, and his thorough theorizing of its importance to psychoanalysis.
Eros is the basic drive toward difference, openness, binding and tension increase. “The trauma of Eros” is the (pleasure)pain of the necessary tension increase of encountering the difference of the other, and the oscillation and undecidability of the me/you this encounter repeats. Bass connects this drive toward painful difference, and its relationship to the death drive and the pleasure principle, to Nietzsche’s idea of life against itself, Heidegger’s Dasein in flight from itself, and Derrida’s concept of the autoimmune response. Eros as sexuality is “conflict itself” (Bass 2008, p. 2). It is with Eros that Bass introduces difference into what is otherwise Freud’s theory of the self-identical, his monistic and fetishistic “castration-truth.” Bass understands that the analytic situation must also take the “trauma of Eros” into account, must account for conflict, for life against itself. Going further, he understands that the very possibility of analysis requires the encounter with the impossibility of analysis. The resistance to analysis theorized here harkens back to Freud’s “Anaylsis Terminable and Interminable,” written in 1937, a year before “Splitting of the Ego.” According to Derrida,
… it is because there is no indivisible element or simple origin that analysis is interminable. Divisibility, dissociability, and thus the impossibility of arresting an analysis … would be perhaps … the truth without truth of deconstruction” (1996, pp. 33-34).
Remember that, for Derrida, the metaphysical interpretation of interpretation “dreams of deciphering a truth or an origin which escapes play.” After quoting Derrida on “the truth without truth of deconstruction” at the very end of Interpretation and Difference, Bass adds that “[d]ivisibility, dissociability, and thus the impossibility of arresting an analysis” is also the truth without truth “of psychoanalysis that meets deconstruction as the thinking of the repetition compulsion … of registration and repudiation of difference” (p. 186). For Bass, the repetition “that does not repeat or represent anything present before it is nonclassical repetition, repetition as/of difference … as lifedeath” (p. 185). Bass never thinks Eros by itself, never without the death drive, never as simply a “mischief maker” (ibid.) that does not allow for self-sufficiency and nothing beyond the pleasure principle and its deathly tension-reduction. He sees the “repetition compulsion as nonclassical repetition of lifedeath (difference)” (ibid.), quoting Derrida’s claim that “there is nothing fortuitous about the fact that the most decisive and difficult stakes between … ‘psychoanalysis’ and ‘deconstruction’ should have taken a relatively organized form around the question of the repetition compulsion” (1996, p. 32).
In Interpretation and Difference, Bass’s reworking of the “betweens” and “beyonds” of psychoanalysis and deconstruction require a rethinking of origins, a rethinking of the “beyond” of the pleasure principle as a “before, the prior, of the pleasure principle” (2006, p. 95; my emphasis). According to Derrida in “To Speculate,” Freud is actually “enigmatic” (p. 262) when it comes to the death drive being the beyond of the pleasure principle, or anything else for that matter. Freud knew on some level that going beyond the pleasure principle is going beyond the determinism of his repression-based theory. For Bass, the beyond of the pleasure principle is not the tension-reducing unbinding of the death drive, since its tension reduction is shared by the pleasure principle-the death drive is the pleasure principle, and therefore can only be a false “beyond” by itself. For Bass, the beyond of the pleasure principle is a before of binding (p. 95), it is (also) Eros, lifedeath, much like Derrida’s writing is the before of speech. Since Eros is before the pleasure principle, this tension increase can be understood as the Nietzschean “pleasurepain” of Bass’s revised conception of primary narcissism, where and “when” he locates the “between” and undecidables, which are then disavowed as oppositions. The “beyond of the pleasure principle,” the beyond of Freud’s mastery, science and determinism, is a before, a primary narcissism where “autoaffection is the trace of the other I am (not)” (p. 100), a transitional space-time of différance.
Just as Bass and Derrida see Freud as a theorist of difference as memory, Bass sees Freud as a theorist of difference as sexuality-which, for Bass, becomes another “between” or intermediate of primary narcissism. Though Bass is aware of Freud’s sexism and shows that Freud “probably intended” the typical duality of male/female with “the fetish concealing actual perception of male and female genitals” (2006, p. 123), Bass also shows that Freud theorized a type of “intermediacy” or undecidability as primary when he theorized primary scopophilia (voyeur-exhibitionism) and primary bisexuality. Freud also connects the intermediacy of scopophilia and bisexuality, and sexuality in general, to the differentiating forces of time and Eros. Therefore sexuality is inevitably in conflict with the dedifferentiating forces of conscious time and the death drive. For Bass and Freud, “sexuality is conflict itself” (2007, p. 2), pleasurepain, lifedeath, life against itself. Bass’s generalization of fetishism focuses on the disavowal of (sexual) différance, which Bass conceptualizes as a Heideggerian “nondual sexuality that is ecstatically temporal” (2006, p. 126). He quotes Derrida on Heidegger’s “nondual sexuality”: “If Dasein as such belongs to neither of the two sexes, this does not mean that the being it is is without sex. On the contrary, one can think here a … pre-dual sexuality, which does not necessarily mean unitary, homogeneous and undifferentiated” (1983, p. 402). For Bass, sexuality as Eros is the “before” of the pleasure principle; it is of primary narcissism and its various intermediacies. Bass shows that, for Freud, the theory of sexuality “is from the first temporal” (2008, p. 1), and uses Freud’s thinking of sexual tension in terms of time, periodicity, and rhythm to get to “sexual time as ecstasis” (2008, p. 27). The nonduality and ecstatic temporality of Bass’s sexuality is the intermediacy of sexual différance, the oscillation between the two identitarian poles of the traditional dualities-male/female, hetero/homo-as a function of sexual différance.
For Heidegger, forgetting the difference between Being and beings is the forgetting of “primordial” temporality. Da-sein is open in the sense that there is no distinct border between “I” and other, between internal and external. Da-sein is always outside itself, is spatially and temporally ecstatic. The metaphysical “I” constitutes itself via the forgetting of this “outsideness,” via the establishment of the separation of subject and object, and the establishment of “conscious time.” In Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud speculated that conscious time might be a defense, a “stimulus barrier,” against the potentially traumatic temporality of “unconscious time.” For Bass, conscious/objective/empirical/everyday time “can be understood symptomatically” (2006, p. 67). It requires a fantasy of an “infinite succession of now points” (2006, p. 65), and therefore acts as a stimulus barrier to the finitude and deferral (Nachtraglichkeit) of unconscious time. Bass’s unconscious time is the temporality of Freud’s sexuality, Nietzsche’s “eternal return of the same,” Heidegger’s “ekstasis,” and Derrida’s différance. Identity must actively and repetitively reestablish itself via the repetitive reestablishment of conscious-objective space-time: the non-classical eternal return of the same becomes the classical repetition (compulsion) of an “I am now,” a transforming of “the same” of différance into identity and conscious time, a process that must disavow its processiveness, and therefore the difference and deferral by which it is constituted.(6)
Heidegger’s Dasein is “open” and uncanny. This openness haunts the metaphysical “I”, has an unavoidable feeling of “strangeness” (which is Bass’s translation of Unheimlich, Strachey’s “uncanny”). “The strangeness of care,” the subtitle of Interpretation and Difference, should be read as “the uncanniness of care,” where “care” is Heidegger’s conception of Da-sein’s spatio-temporal being-with-others, and of Angst, existential anxiety. As with Eros, care raises tension levels since being-with-others binds. Da-sein’s flight from itself is a flight from the Angst of being-outside-of-oneself, from what Bass calls “alarming” space and time (2006, p. 87)-the existential anxiety caused by an always already open unconscious. Both Heidegger and Freud thought “Unheimlichkeit” as primary. Bass’s subtitles-“The Trauma of Eros” and “The Strangeness [Uncanniness] of Care”-stem from what he sees as the crucial overlapping of Heidegger’s existential analytic and his own revision of Freud’s conception of psychoanalytic treatment.
Derrida asks us to think his two interpretations of interpretation together, to hold them in Heideggerian “perdurance”-a type of holding apart in order to hold together-because both interpretations of interpretation together are an expression of différance as “articulation-connection,” Heidegger’s making distinct in order to form a relationship, which is at the same time forming a relationship in order to make distinct. Heidegger asks us to think the spatiotemporality and difference of Dasein as articulation-connection-Dasein as radically relational-and to hold in perdurance the traditional oppositionalities of the metaphysical subject: self/other, subject/object, presence/absence, life/death, pleasure/pain, active/passive, male/female, homosexual/heterosexual, voyeur/exhibitionist, internal/external, etc. It is in this Heideggerian-Nietzschean spirit of lifedeath, pleasurepain, where, according to Bass, “[d]ifference connects, but difference articulates” (2006, p. 31) that
Derrida asks us to think both interpretations of interpretation at the same time.
Both interpretations of interpretation are required to respect the deathly drive to “stay” at home (Heimlichkeit) and primary not-at-home-ness (Unheimlichkeit). With respect to Bass’s generalization of fetishism-a generalization of différance as articulation-connection-psychopathology always starts with a disavowal of différance, and therefore treatment will always require some use of differentiating force to reopen Dasein’s being-closed-to-the-world in its flight from itself: noncausal interpretation. This differentiating force of noncausal interpretation will be felt as the pain and trauma of Eros and will provoke the Angst of care. Moreover, since différance creates the possibility of identity and oppositionality, and identity and oppositionality sustain themselves against différance, différance must always be considered with both forms of interpretation: there is never a fantasy of objective truth and origins without différance, without its registration and repudiation in fetishism. This is the basis of Bass’s general psychoanalytic and “nonmetaphysical conception of interpretative therapy” (2006, p. xiii).
Bass takes seriously “Nietzsche’s radicalization of interpretation, his sense that nonmetaphysical thinking has to proceed in terms of active, differentiating interpretation” (ID, p. xii). For his philosophical conception of interpretation, Bass looks to Derrida’s extension of the active interpretation of Nietzsche and the descriptive interpretation of Heidegger. Derrida’s “spectral, binding interpretation” is concerned with the ghost in the machine of Freud’s “psychical apparatus.” Such interpretation is spectral because it concerns the space between presence and absence, life and death. Derrida calls interpretation “spectral” when it modifies what it interprets, the essence of psychoanalytic interpretation. It is binding because it is of Eros, life. It is technological because it is an unconscious force, a writing machine, a live machine. Bass explains:
Derrida wants to think interpretation that modifies what it interprets (the aim of psychoanalysis), as spectral, suspended in the virtual realm between presence and absence. This virtual or spectral time and space is where Freud situates the “psychic apparatus.” This is why Derrida, unlike Nietzsche and Heidegger, is always concerned with the technological implications of Freud’s thought. Another major theme is that spectral interpretation is a function of this technology itself. (p. xiii)
Derridean spectral, binding interpretation is the kind of interpretation that “affirms play and tries to pass beyond man and humanism, the name of man being the name of that being who, throughout the history of metaphysics, or of ontotheology … has dreamed of full presence” (1978a, p. 292). Metaphysical, causal, and traditional Freudian interpretation dreams of “full presence” for “man.” Bass shows that for Derrida “there could be no spoken language [and no fantasy of a present speaking subject, no ‘man’] without a play of difference, and that writing itself is the trace of difference … the condition of possibility of language” (2006, p. 102). The subject and metaphysics are both constituted by and against différance, and Derrida and Bass see the automatic unconscious process of repetitively disavowing différance as a writing machine that is both alive and dead, a “living machine,” spectral. “Man” and “his” full, phallogocentric presence is constituted by and against this spectrality.
Humanists, including those who claim to be psychoanalytic, will of course decry Bass’s Derridean conception of interpretation(s) and of “man” as an Unheimlich cyborg. They will not see that to not take into account différance, the pain and trauma of Eros, and the Unheimlichkeit of care is to do a disservice to their patients and themselves. The metaphysicians of presence will continue to assume the essential self in their self-psychologies, and their intersubjectivities, and remain hostile to the radical Freud and his critique of self-presence. Relational psychoanalysts will continue to think relation in terms of ones, two, and threes, and continue to eschew the différance that does not allow for articulation of distinct numbers, does not allow for articulation without connection, and does not rethink time. They will also eschew drive theory as unrelational, even though Bass shows lifedeath to be radically relational. Unfortunately, these “dreamers of full presence” will continue to disavow différance by disavowing the haunted psychoanalytic “psychic apparatus,” and never come to appreciate the rigor, subtlety, sophistication, and thoroughness of Bass’s revolutionary generalization of fetishism from a psychoanalytic and philosophical point of view.