Specters of Freud



This essay follows the breaches of deconstructive rereading in some basic psychoanalytic legacies, such as heritage, inheritance, and spectral effect of resubjectivation.  It is on specters in psychoanalysis and the specters haunting Freud.  The essay demonstrates the importance of deconstruction in psychoanalysis in the era of tele-technological resubjectification.  The Freudian theory of prosthesis shows that human beings are always already techno-beings, which is one special case of spectralization and oneirization.


  1. 1.    Gone with the specters

The beginnings of psychoanalysis are closely associated with Freud’s change in position regarding psychical reality.  In his letter to Wilhelm Fliess of September 21, 1897, Freud wrote that he no longer believed in his own theory of early seduction and the reality of traumatic events since “there are no indications of reality in the unconscious [es im Unbewußten ein Realitätszeichem nicht gibt], so that one cannot distinguish between truth and fiction that has been cathected with affect [daß man die Wahrheit und die mit Affekt besetze Fiktion nicht unterscheiden kann]” (Freud 1887-1904, р.264).  Freud thus suspends the validity of the truth/fiction opposition that is so essential to classical philosophy and science.  The story is false, but there should in it lay some truth: the real specter is reality’s sign.  From then on, with regard to the etiology of neuroses, Freud acknowledged the priority of desires, dreams and fantasies.  From then on, “this physical reality [had] to be taken into account alongside practical reality [die psychische Realität verlangt neben der praktischen Realität]” (S. Freud 1914, pp. 17-18).

Desires, dreams and fantasies are deviations from the programs of “practical reality”.  They temporarily take one to the spectral world (by contrast to hallucinations that take one beyond the law of “practical reality”).  Thus, psychoanalysis emerges as part of Freud’s interest in the world of the spectral.  Importantly, this world does not appear as an antithesis of some “reality”.  What Freud is talking about is “practical reality”, and this “reality” is in fact practical, conventional.  It does not stand in opposition to psychical reality.  Practical reality is no more real than the psychical one.

How can one distinguish between these two realities?  How can one reveal the practical reality in the psychical?  How can one distill the practical reality from the psychical?

Reality represents itself as such.  Reality is the representation of reality.  Including all the specters inhabiting it.

In Derrida’s terms, ‘psychical reality’ is a typical undecidability [indécidabilité].  On the one hand, it is as if it were objective (since it is still ‘reality’) while on the other hand, it is always already subjective (since it is ‘psychical’).  Psychical reality does not allow for any final judgment regarding to its status.  The undecidability does not allow one to accept any single interpretation as preferable.  Various, even contradictory, meanings are equally possible.  In this respect, Derrida’s undecidabilities resonate with the relativity found in Freud’s own formula—another interpretation is also possible: “Even if the solution [die Auflösung] seems satisfactory and without gaps, the possibility always remains that the dream may have yet another meaning [noch ein anderer Sinn]” (S. Freud 1900, 4, p. 270).

The possibility of various interpretations follows, inter alia, from the principle of multiple determination or, in Freud’s own terms, over-determination.  The meaning of any psychic phenomenon is always already over-determined—that is, it cannot be ascribed to any single cause.  Multiple causality prescribes the relations of presence-absence and the play of differing-deferring to all meanings.  Interpretations of the phenomena of psychical reality are a priori assigned to the order of undecidability:  the order of differing-deferring the final decision.  Any decision always already implies another decision.  Undecidability is prescribed to any decision.

Derrida’s texts are marked by multitude of such undecidabilities that indicate the impossibility of setting a clear, definite and authentic meaning for a proposition or notion.  Here, the importance of undecidability is not due as much to its lexical richness or semantic infiniteness, as it is to its formal syntactic practice, its order of correspondences and its sequential character.

At this point one feels tempted to compare deconstructive undecidabilities to psychoanalytical ambivalences.  Derrida pre-empts temptation.  In La Dissémination, he writes: “‘Undecidability’ is not caused here by some enigmatic equivocality, some inexhaustible ambivalence of a word in a “natural” language, and still less by some ‘Gegensinn der Urworte’ (Abel)” (Derrida 1972, p. 220).  What does he mean by ‘Gegensinn der Urworte’?  And who is Abel?

In 1910 Freud read The Antithetical Meaning of Primal Words [Über den Gegensinn der Urworte] written in 1884 by Karl Abel, an expert in Egyptian philology.  Freud gave so much importance to this work that undertook an action that was fairly out of his character—he wrote a review of this work and published it in the 1910 Yearbook of Psychoanalysis.  Thus, apart from Abel’s “antithetical meaning of primal words” there’s their Freudian double-ganger.  To Abel, Freud owed his linguistic conceptualization of two characteristics of dreams, namely a strange tendency of oneirowork [dream-work] to disregard negation and its preference for expressing contraries by identical means of representation.

Able notes two distinctive features of the ancient Egyptian language.  First, he says that there is a multitude of words with contradictory meanings in this language.  For instance, “strong” and “weak” are meanings of one and the same word.  “Light” and “darkness” are expressed by the same word.  Second, there are also compound words that consist of two syllables with contradictory meanings, viz…  “closely-far”, “freely-bound”, “outwardly-inner”.  The combination of two syllables does not form some new, third word, as it is the case with Chinese hieroglyphs, but preserves two contrary meanings.

The reason behind Freud’s study of Abel’s work was to Egyptian writing with oneirography.  Referring to Abel, he wrote in 1913 that “concepts are still ambivalent in dream-language [Traumsprache], and unite within themselves contrary meanings – as is the case, according to the hypotheses of philologists, in the oldest roots of historical languages” (Freud 1913, p. 176).  Earlier in this text, Freud specified that “‘speech’ must be understood not merely to mean the expression of thought in words but to include the speech of gesture and every other method, such as writing, for example, by which mental activity can be expressed” (S. Freud 1913, p. 176).  The language of dreams is understood in a broader sense.  Oneirography resorts to various means, including contradictory meanings.

The solution to the riddle of these ambiguities lies in the fact that the notions ascend to comparison.  Freud quotes Abel in saying, “It is clear that everything on this planet is relative and has an independent existence only in so far as it is differentiated in respect of its relations to other things…” (S. Freud 1910, p. 157).  We bear in mind “close” while saying “far” and so on.  The law of binary oppositions presupposes the presence of one due to the absence of the other.  And the presence is always already marked and overshadowed by the absence.  Weakness is concealed in force and, after all, there is neither weakness nor force and “in reality this word denotes neither “strong” nor “weak”, but the relation and difference between the two” (S. Freud 1910, p. 158).  A word encompasses a difference between meanings rather than a meaning.

A question arises, says Abel, as to how to let an interlocutor know which of two meanings is implied.  In writing, this problem is resolved by means of the so-called ‘definitive’ images placed next to the signs of the alphabet.  For instance, to picture “strong”, Egyptians put a human figure, one hand up, beside the word ken.  Abel suggests that in speech they may have used complementary gestures.  Image makes up for deficiency in writing.  The writing of gestures takes up the shortage of speech.  Thus, apart from hieroglyphs-phonograms (signs that signify sounds) and hieroglyphs-logograms (signs that signify words), there are fundamentally important determinative hieroglyphs, discriminative words.  A letter is not a phoneme’s pure record.  Both in Chinese and Sumerian records, writing discriminates homophony—that is, the aural coincidence of lingual items with different meanings.  Pictograms are not used to signify the object it represents—by contrast, they stand for another object whose name is phonetically identical.  There is no purely phonetic writing,–says Derrida.  It is always already related to the identifying scripture features.

Clearly enough, Derrida points out the relations between undecidability and Gegensinn der Urworte while talking about the absence of such relations.  He notes the fact that undecidability is a sway between possibilities, a suspension of decision making, a deferral of the ‘either-or’ choice.  However, why does Derrida assert that undecidability is not “Gegensinn der Urworte”?  One of the reasons is apparently that he is not talking about just any words—rather, the words in question are certain primal words and equivocal beginnings of textuality.  Beginnings and primaries—primal repression [Urverdrängung], primal fantasies [Urphantasien], primal scene [Urszene]—are the object of the deconstructive critique of psychoanalysis.  Despite Freud’s (scientism-driven) desire, primal beginnings in his thought are deferred, postponed and left in difference.  A primal beginning presupposes another primal beginning.

At the same time, however, Freud demonstrates that the waking logic of “either/or” is not the only one that is active in psychical reality.  Moreover, “the alternative ‘either—or’ cannot be expressed in dreams in any way whatever.  Both of the alternatives are usually inserted in the text of the dream as though they were equally valid” (S. Freud 1900, 4, p. 316).  Such is Freud’s logic of the “primal” [Ur], primal logic or oneirologic.  The principle “yet another interpretation is possible” is prescribed by this very oneirologic of “both, and”.  It is this logic that Freud found in Abel’s book.

This logic supports the mechanism of displacement.  Conceptual slipping stops neither in Freud nor in Derrida.  Undecidability does not paralyze action as neurotic ambivalence would do—rather, it lets off free associations.  The oneirostrategy seems to slight the rules of binding which is a sign of the reality principle.  Such a strategy makes possible the unfolding conceptual and associative series.  Here is an example of a ghostly deconstructive series: hospes, hostis, hostage, host, guest, ghost, Holy Ghost and Geist (Derrida 1996, p. 110).  Starting with the Latin hospes which combines two notions (a guest bound to someone by the relations of hospitality and a host who is being hospitable to someone), this series destroys the usual pattern of roles: the haunting ghost is a guest who should be driven out from the haunted host.  Who is the host?  Who is the guest?  Who should be driven out?

The displacement of signifiers in the course of the so called ‘free associations’ was also considered by Freud.  This course is haunted by ever new ghosts.  However, his turn to the investigation of the unconscious and possession by ghosts also signifies a turn away from science.  Derrida points out that the neglect of ghosts is a characteristic trait of both philosophical and scientific rationality.  The desire to banish ghosts is a characteristic feature of the metaphysics of presence that only deals with what is “here and now”, “present”: “There has never been a scholar who, as such, does not believe in the sharp distinction between the real and the unreal, the actual and the un-actual, the living and the non-living, being and non-being” (Derrida 1993, p. 33).

In contrast to philosophy and science, psychoanalysis deals with ghosts.  Specters that inhabit psychical reality constitute the object or, more precisely, the subject of psychoanalysis.  However, it is not only psychoanalysis that is possessed by ghosts.

It is not only Freud’s discipline that is established by the logic of specters; deconstruction enacts the same logic.  It is the logic of specters that unfailingly discomfits the logic of binary oppositions, for example: guest–host; presence–absence; visible–invisible; sensible–intelligible; psychical reality–practical reality.  A specter is at the same time here and there, it is both visible and invisible, its presence is sensible though reason suggests it is absent.  The presence of a specter is inevitably marked by the trace of absence.  The logic of a specter is “de facto a deconstructive logic.  It is an element of haunting in which deconstruction finds its most hospitable place in the very heart of the living present [présent vivant], in the most vivid pulsation of the philosophical” (Derrida J., Stiegler B. 1996, p. 131).  Spectrality is the non-opposition of the real and the unreal, psychical reality and practical reality, being and non-being.

Where do specters appear from?  Where do they return from?  Why don’t they disappear once and for all?



2. Phantasm on the road

How can one cognize the universe of psychic reality populated with ghosts?  How can one cognize the unconscious?  Which road can take us there?  And where is this—there?

In 1899 Freud found the royal road to the cognition of the unconscious.  Let us recall his most famous formula: “The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind [die Via regia zur Kenntnis des Unbewußten im Seelenleben]” (S. Freud 1900, p. 608).  When this quotation is mentioned, a word is often omitted; they say: The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to the unconscious activities of the mind.  However, this makes a drastic difference.  Freud is not talking about the road to the unconscious, but about the road to its knowledge [zur Kenntnis].  No road leads there – where nothing can be described in terms of the presence.  No way leads there [Fort] where you cannot finally find some here [Da].  No way leads you do not know where.

In 1915 Freud described this process of understanding in terms of translation.  The paradox is that while translation is possible, the “original” itself, the “unconscious original”, the “original of the unconscious” is always already beyond presentation.  It is always already somewhere there, somewhere else.  This radical otherness of the other scene, as Freud puts it, cannot be described in terms of presence [Da] and being-here [Da-Sein].  It is from “that” [Fort] scene that oneiroghosts come back, thus attesting to some being-there [Fort-Sein].  The oneirodrome of the virtual being-there launches phantasms.  But not only them.

Phantasms are creatures no less centauric than psychical reality.  Freud wrote: “On the one hand, they are highly organized, free from self-contradiction, have made use of every acquisition of the system Cs. and would hardly be distinguished in our judgment from the formations of that system.  On the other hand they are unconscious and are incapable of becoming conscious.  Thus qualitatively, they belong to the system Pcs., but factually to the Ucs. […] We may compare them with individuals of mixed race who, taken all round, resemble white men, but who betray their colored descent by some striking feature or other, and on that account are excluded from society and enjoy none of the privileges of white people” (S. Freud 1915, pp. 190-1).  Phantasm is heterogeneous by origin; it descends from all three psychical agencies.  It has compound identity, and white men exclude it from their society for the sake of purity of the race.

In his other text, Freud compares phantasms to the entailed territory that renders the principle of psychic reality invalid and lets man enjoy freedom from coercion.  It is due to fantasy that man can “alternate between remaining an animal of pleasure and being once more a creature of reason [verständiges Wesen]” (S. Freud, 1916, p. 372).  This time Freud’s metaphor shows that man can achieve pleasure in fantasy like an animal, a biological machine, as if pleasure from phantasm were some inhuman feature.  Fantasy switches the modes of human existence: from reasonable presence [Wesen] to beastly pleasure [Lust], to the pleasure beyond presence/absence.  Doesn’t that inhuman turn out all too human?

Among the entailed fantasies Freud distinguishes certain primal fantasies or proto-fantasies.  What does he mean by those?  Universality.  However, this is not universality proper, but “quasi-universality”.  Freud is always cautious while groping through this ghostly world.  He does not state that all people have primal fantasies, rather almost all of them do.  He explains their existence by phylogenetic inheritance, literally a phylogenetic asset, possession or estate [phylogenetischer Besitz].  In lecture XXIII of his Lectures on Introduction to Psychoanalysis (1916) he writes that fantasies could have been real in the primary period of the human family and that “children in their phantasies are simply filling in the gaps in individual truth with prehistoric truth [die Lücken der individuellen Wahrheit mit prähistorischer Wahrheit ausgefüllt hat]” (S. Freud, 1916, p. 371).  First, it is worth emphasizing that the function of fantasies is to fill in the gaps.  Individual truth is not entire truth; it is still to be supplemented with some prehistoric truth.  Phantasm displaces and replaces the truth together with practical reality (no longer in quotation marks).  Freud’s phantasm acts, in Derridian terms, as a supplement [supplément].  The paradox is that the fantasizing child supplements gaps in the subjective truth with some extra-subjective truth.  Phantasms seem to come from.  The “as if inside” cannot go without being supplemented by the “as if outside”.

Second, phantasm or, rather, the primal phantasm is a prehistoric truth filling in the gaps in the individual truth.  Thus, Freud supposes that something that happened in the practical reality becomes a property of the psychic reality.  The specter of what-really-happened gives back to Freud the territory he ceded in 1897.  The scientifically occult specter gives him no peace.  Freud is haunted by either Freudo-Jung or Freudo-Lamarck or Freudo-Häckel.  Primal phantasm appears in the psychic reality because it had already been present somewhere, because it was inherited.  However, that very mechanism of inheritance of prehistoric truth, as passed on phylogenetically, remains unclear even until today.  On the other hand, prehistoric truth may be understood from the point of view of another Freud: primal fantasies are fantasies that in different actions [nachträglich] refer to prehistoric, i.e. pre-Oedipal, times—times that precede one’s subjectivization but not one’s biological birth.  Prehistoric truth [prähistorischer Wahrheit] proves to be post-historic truth [nachistorischer Wahrheit] in the sense of historic consequence, and Lyotardian postmodernity, and Freudian unconscious oneiro-con-temporaneity.  The specter of practical reality that chases Freud is not a specter of somebody but a specter of somebody else.  Specter is “someone like someone else” [quelqu’un comme quelqu’un d’autre] (Derrida 1993, 27) and hence neither an idol, nor the image of an image, nor the Platonic phantasma understood as a simulacrum of something else.

Surprisingly, the very notion of phantasm, being a principle of psychoanalytic theory, remains undecided.  Derrida calls one of his works, Glas, the “practical analysis” of phantasm.  The book presents, even polygraphically, the encounter of Genet’s “literary” text with the “philosophical” one of Hegel.  Phantasm, in the same manner as phantom, deconstructs conventional philosophical oppositions, such as original–derivative, the real–imaginary, practical reality–psychical reality.  Hence the task of deconstruction arises: to demonstrate in the philosophical language that “the philosophical is phantasmatic” (Derrida 1992, p. 30).  Then what should we say about the psychoanalytical?  What should we say about the psychical?  Starting with the self…



3. At the screen of the ‘ego’

One’s own ego appears as a phantom: I myself [moi-même] as someone else [comme quelqu’un d’autre].  It appears as a captivating, charming, and attracting phantom.  However, this phantom is my own phantom of the other [fantôme d’autre]—of some other me and me as the other.  This asset is still to be acquired again and again.  Until the end of the world.  Whenever the asset appears it starts eluding and leaving a ghostly trace.  My ghost is haunting me.  Wherever my own me [moi] appears, ghosts appear as well.  Wherever my own me appear, it haunts me.  It haunts [es spukt; ça hante].

Ego is primarily corporal, according to Freud, and therefore it is superficial.  However, that very ego “is not merely a surface entity, but is itself the projection of a surface [es ist nicht nur ein Oberflächenwesen, sondern selbst die Projektion einer Oberfläche]” (S. Freud, 1923, p. 26).  Ego is a representation.  Ego is a surface.  Ego is the projection of a surface.  Projection on the other.  Projection on the screen of the others.  This screen is supposed to maintain itself as a dream screen.  It is an imprinted heritage of the image of breast (B. Lewin) or face (M. Khan).  Still we cannot say it represents something by itself.  We cannot say it represents itself.  Like a cinema screen (the comparison belongs to Lewin who was repeating the words of his patient), the dream screen presents images due to its own invisibility (Mazin 2000).

Phantasms, including the phantasms of one’s own self, “are projected on the screen of phantom (i.e. on some absence, for the screen itself is phantomatic like a TV set of the future that lacks the ‘screen support’, projecting its images—sometimes images of synthesis—directly on the eye, like a telephone transfers sound directly to the ear)” (Derrida 1993, p. 163).  The dream screen is the unframed invisible projection of the surface.  The dream screen unfolds in the psychic reality and unfolds the psychic reality itself; it is a milieu, more like a stereo cinema than a surface.  This dream screen transforms into the frameless dream space.

The dream screen is an invisible surface on which representations are projected.  Thus it acquires its second absence in the waking.  It continues acting in the wake.  It becomes, as it were, twice absent.  What is represented is projected on “the invisible screen where nothing is to be seen” (Derrida 1993, p. 165).  To see what is not there.  To see where there is not anything.  To see on what does not exist.  To see a ghost in the law.  To see how the law returns in the disguise of a ghost.



4. The undecidable law of super-ego

The law waxes in times of lawlessness.  More precisely, time waxes on together with the law.  The law appears together with the ghostly figure of the father.  In his wish to decide the question of spectrality, Derrida turns to one of the most notable and famous specters—namely, to the father of Hamlet.  The specter of the father visits Hamlet.  The specter haunts Hamlet.

Hamlet is rapt in contemplation.  He is possessed by the choice between to be or not to be.  He is allegedly unable to make decisions.  He is allegedly unable to act.  Freud’s thought, however, takes another route: Hamlet is not a helpless neurotic, he is not only able to contemplate, but also to act.  He only becomes helpless “in fulfilling the task set to him by his father’s ghost [der Aufgabe, die der Geist seines Vaters ihm gestellt hat]” (S. Freud 1900, 4, p. 265).  Hamlet is not simply possessed by the ghost – rather, his actions are constrained by it.  The ghost of the father instructs the son and thus deprives him of the possibility of acting.  Hamlet is paralyzed by the obsessive ghost.  Key to his problem is the undecidability represented by the introjected oedipal relations: you should be like your father but you have no right to be like him.  Why is Hamlet unable to revenge his father’s death?  Because he must revenge himself upon one who has taken his–oedipal—place.  He must revenge himself upon himself, upon his other, upon himself-at-some-other-place.  This is the reason why his hatred takes the form of self reproach.

Blindness and disability in the face of the ghost’s might, in the face of ghostly law, reveal the work of the super-ego, the agency that disciplines and punishes.  Freud considers the appearance of the super-ego, an agency superior to the ego, to be the effect of two factors he regarded as being biological.  One of them is the complete dependence upon parents caused by a child’s long biological and organic helplessness [biologische Hilflosigkeit].  The other is the Oedipus complex.

Is the Oedipus complex biological?  Is Freud being again haunted by the bio-ghost?  In what relation does it appear?—Again in relation to inheritance!

According to Freud, the super-ego is the ever living spectrum of the parents’ traits, their specter, an agency representing the parental voice.  This agency “retains the character of the father, while the more powerful the Oedipus complex was and the more rapidly it succumbed to repression (under the influence of authority, religious teaching, schooling and reading) the stricter will be the domination of the super-ego over the ego later on—in the form of conscience or perhaps of an unconscious sense of guilt” (S. Freud, 1923, pp. 34-5).  The super-ego is the inheritance of oedipal relations, dependence upon the parents and obedience to the instructing voices.  Freud points out the undecidable ambivalence of this agency.  Super-ego is not only identification with the father’s law, but also a reactive formation that creates the situation of double bind, a simultaneous requirement to meet the conditions and to refuse them.  The super-ego is an undecidability.  Is there a place for the biological character of inheritance?

The super-ego is an inherited agency.  It is not a question of any separate agency’s origin that is at stake here, but the question of psychical reality and psychical inheritance.  It is no surprise that “Freudian theory formulates its basic question as the question of inheritance” (Stiegler 2001, s.32).  The relation of inheritance unites all three agencies of the psychical apparatus.  Moreover, this very inheritance does not allow for the division of and distinction between these three agencies.  Each agency differs from itself due to another one.  Thus, “in the id, which is capable of being inherited, are harbored residues of the existences of countless egos [vieler Ich-Existenzen]; and, when the ego forms its super-ego out of its id, it may perhaps only be reviving shapes of former egos [Ichgestaltungen] and be bringing them to resurrection” (S. Freud, 19, p. 38).  Whose are they, these “existences of countless egos”?  How does “the ego form its super-ego out of its id”?  How does it revive shapes of former egos?  Do the shapes of former egos precede the birth of the id or are they being brought to resurrection in differed action by the agency of the id?

The super-ego is in fact ego retrieved from id.  Id is in fact ego in the form of returning specters of the existence of countless egos.  Ego is in fact super-ego returned from id.  However, Freud is possessed [besetzt] by the ghost of biological-ness, by the phantom of phylogenetic possession [phylogenetischer Besitz]: “But the derivation of the super-ego from the first object-cathexis of the id, from the Oedipus complex, signifies even more for it.  This derivation, as we have already shown, brings it into relation with the phylogenetic acquisitions [phylogenetischen Erwerbungen] of the id and makes it a reincarnation of former ego-structures which have left their precipitates behind in the id” (S. Freud, 1923, p. 48).  The enigmatic character of this place – not to say its “undecidability” – again consists in its heterogeneity or its multivalency.  Freud is chased by the ghost of practical reality.  Freud is possessed by the specters of Darwin, Lamarck, Jung and some unknown Hindu believers.  It seems that whenever he is faced with the question, “Where do the specters come from?”, Freud makes an attempt to decide it through extra-psychoanalytical means.  Psychoanalysis is strict.  Specters come from the territories lying beyond its boundaries.  Specters are beyond psychoanalysis.  Specters attest to the mystery of its origin.

In inheriting the super-ego, the inheritance is voice, discourse, language.  But not only these.  The very ability of inheriting is also being inherited: we “inherit language to be able to attest that we are the heirs [que nous sommes des héritiers].  In other words, we inherit the ability to inherit.  The fact that we inherit is not an attribute or an accident, but our essence, and what we inherit is this very essence.  We inherit the possibility of attesting to the fact that we inherit, and this is language” (Derrida J., Stiegler B. 1996, p. 147).  Such is another undecidability: we inherit the ability of inheriting and formulating a law in a language—a law that allows us to inherit and attest not only voice and logos, not only word, hearing and obedience, but also the gaze—an invisible supervising gaze from the past.  The preceding gaze.  The gaze from the future.  The gaze that doesn’t simply invoke a different image-perceiving machine but calls to a radically different world and an absolutely dissimilar frame of reference for any phenomenon.



5. Future envisioned

Another aspect pointed out by Derrida with regard to this inheritance of the super-ego is temporal.  One who is me and non-me, one who supervises me had appeared before me, is ahead of me.  One who watches me is before me.  He precedes me.  Such is another reason due to which “I am in heteronomy.  Yet, this does not mean that I am not free, by contrast, this is the condition of freedom, if I could say so: my freedom emerges under the condition of this responsibility born from the heteronomy of the gaze of the other, under the gaze of the other.  This gaze is the essence of spectrality itself” (Derrida J., Stiegler B. 1996, p. 137).  This is not a narcissistic gaze of the Lacanian mirror stage.  This is another gaze, the asymmetrical one.  The gaze from the future.

Specters return from the past.  Anticipation prescribes them to return from the future.  One of the questions posed by Derrida is whether a specter can appear in the present at all.  Isn’t it true that it always comes either from the past or from the present?  However, “before we know whether it is possible to draw a difference between the specter of the past and the specter of the future, the present past and the present future, it might be necessary to ask whether the effect of spectrality consists in the discomfiting of this opposition, this dialectics between the actual presence and its other.” (Derrida 1993, p. 72).  Anticipation is impossible in the sense that regardless of what and how we anticipate, any decision that is taken has always already broken up with the frame of anticipation.

At the same time, the future and a specter have something in common—namely, non-existence.  Here, we get quite an unexpected formula: one, who does not believe in the existence of specters, does not believe in the future.  By contrasting the actual with the virtual and supporting the “existing/spectral” ontological opposition, we have shut the future for us.  Our knowledge of the difference between the actual and the virtual allows for prognostication of the future and for construction of the horizon of anticipation.  For Derrida, deconstruction is a project aimed at the preservation of the radical openness to the future.  The future must happen.  The deconstructive approach is an attempt to conceive of others and events in terms of the arriving [arrivant], actuvirtual, incoming specter—rather than in terms of the actual, actualizable, actualized.  This incoming one, that specter “should be absolutely other, the other I am expecting without expectation [je m’attendre à ne pas attendre], the other I am not expecting so that my expectation is made of non-expectation, the expectation without what they call in philosophy a horizon of expectation, when certain knowledge is anticipating and amortizing in advance.  If I am sure that certain event is to take place, it will not be an event” (Derrida J., Stiegler B. 1996, p. 21).

Each singular case in psychoanalysis requires this very kind of openness.  Analysis is the openness to the providence of analysis.  Analysis is the hospitality towards the ghost of analysis.  Analysis is the recognition of the ghost’s proprietorship.

In The Question of Lay Analysis, Freud talks about the rule of expectation that may be interpreted as the rule of the sustentation of undecidability.  For Freud, interpretation will in any case come to an analyst.  What is important is to retain it.  What is important is that this interpretation—which will always appear as a different one—comes to the analysand.  Freud devises a rule for the analyst, the rule of waiting: “The formula is: to wait [der Vorschrift ist zu warten] till he has come so near to the repressed materials that he has only a few more steps to take under the lead of the interpretation you propose [unter der Anleitung Ihres Deutungsvorschlages]” (S. Freud 1926, p. 220).  The paradox here is that the guidance and instruction is performed by the unutterable and undecided interpretation, by the interpretation-in-the-expectation-of-the-unexpected.  The suggested interpretation is not being suggested.  It remains in reserve.  It remains in the incessant expectation.

The undecidability of expectation here is not, most evidently, a paralysis.  With undecidability, one is not ice-bound.  With undecidability, one is not spellbound.  The specter of undecidability is chasing any decision preventing it from coming into presence.  Decision dams up the future; undecidability renders yet another interpretation possible.  Clearly, Derrida’s undecidability here is not Freud’s ambivalence.

A construction suggested by the analyst may be false and may be true.  It can only acquire either status in retrospection [nachträglich].  The status of truth is the question of a deferred future.  Moreover, it can only make sense in relation to subjectivity.  The status of interpretation is a supposition, a contingency, a possibility in the expectancy of the unexpected.

In the expectancy populated with ghosts.  In the expectancy of specters.  In setting the mourning work on risk.



6. The mourning work for the undead

Mourning is inevitable during one’s life-time.  Mourning is inevitable in this world teeming with the specters of that world.  Spectrality always already implies the invisible link to the dead or, more precisely, to the non-living.  “That the dead no longer exist does not mean that it is finished with the specters.  By contrast, then mourning and haunting get unchained.  They are raging in front of death itself as a simple possibility of death—that is, as a trace that emerges as a direct survival [sur-vivance]” (Derrida J., Stiegler B. 1996, p. 148).  Psychical reality can’t help effecting the work of mourning [Trauerarbeit].

Mourning consists in differentiation—in the move discriminating between the living and the dead.  Mourning consists in “the tendency to ontologize the remains, to render them presence, first of all to identify the remains and localize the dead” (Derrida 1993, 30).  Ontologization must make one restful.  Ontologization must work to rest one’s soul.  Specters should know their place but they are not to keep it.  They have no place.  The living cannot but have to understand who these specters are (to identify them) and where these specters are (to localize them).  It is necessary to put an end to the incessant recurrence of the living dead.  Alas.  They keep recurring.  They seem not to know themselves.  They seem not to know their place.  Who are these restless?  Where do they come from?

We are now turning to the spectral art of cinema.  In George A. Romero’s 1968 film The Night of the Living Dead that established a new genre, a new series of reduplications, zombie-remixes and remakes of the uncanny, a hero says, “Unburied dead are coming back to life”.  This film not so much marks the appearance of ghosts in cinema (they appeared in the cinema simultaneously with the birth of cinema itself, duplicating “from its very beginning” the spectral existence of cinema with nosferatus, phantoms and fantomases).  Rather, this film presents one of the most uncanny phantasms of the West—namely, the phantasm of the non-living returning to life, the return of the irretrievably gone.

What makes revenants recur?  Freud called such recurrence “the uncanny [unheimliche] return of the repressed.”  Lacan called it the “return of the real”.  Derrida called it es spukt.

Being confronted by the living dead for the first time, the livings do not know what to call them and say “these things” as if talking of the non-living.  These things [Dinge] cannot be named.  They cannot take their place in the symbolic universe.  They are not registered in the book of life.  They are the irremovable remainder, the irreducible waste products of life.  These things deliver a bill to the living.

What distinguishes the living from the non-living?  More precisely, what distinguishes the living from the undead—that is, from those who failed to rest in peace, who returned to the world of the living—from the resuscitated undead.  Here, it is barely possible to draw any strict line between the living and the dead.  The already-undead face the yet-non-dead.  The neither-living-nor-dead, the already-undead devour the flesh of the yet-non-dead.  For some reason, they need food, for some reason they need to devour and to physically incorporate their victims.  Not for the sake of life.  Rather, for the benefit of death.  This devouring increases the effect of fleshliness and uncannily exacerbates the dense effect of the otherworldly real.

The undead not only devour but also hunt for the so called living.  They move inaptly, not even in the manner of a noctambulist but seemingly on purpose and with no purpose, with a displaced but a very specific purpose.  However, the only thing that distinguishes them from the living undead is their growl and bellow.  Their sounding is inarticulate.  They are incapable of scanning, as Lacan would have put it.  The body of the neither-living-nor-dead is alive.  However, they have neither speech nor consciousness nor anything else that would mark their living presence [présence vivante].  These things experience either deficiency or an excess of existence.

The undead make an uncanny impression.  It cannot be otherwise since “there is no being-here [Dasein] of a specter but there is also no being-here [Dasein] without the disquieting strangeness and the strange familiarity (Unheimlichkeit) of a specter” (Derrida 1993, p. 165).  In its undecidability, the uncanny itself is both distant and close, both known and unknown, both native and alien, both secret and apparent—it is not only both living and dead, as Jentsch suggests.  The uncanny is not conditioned solely by the impossibility of discerning between the living and the dead.  The uncanny is initiated by the return of the repressed, its own other.  Referring to Schelling, Freud writes that “everything is unheimlich that ought to have remained secret and hidden but has come to light” (S. Freud 1919, p. 225).  The uncanny returns to Freud together with the specters of Romanticism.  The uncanny [Unheimlich] is the secret [Geheimnis] that has betrayed itself.  The uncanny is something which is not already secret but yet not apparent.  The uncanny is something that has shown itself but has not yet been recognized.  It haunts [es spukt; ça hante].  The uncanny of the specters consists not so much in the undecidability of their status as in the expropriation of the self and appropriation of the other; it consists in the effect of telepathy capable of reading somebody else’s thoughts and transferring at a distance one’s own thoughts.  It consists in the incessant recurrence of the same under the guise of something else: “The subject identifies himself with someone else, so that he is in doubt as to which his self is, or substitutes the extraneous self for his own.  In other words, there is doubling [Ich-Verdopplung], dividing [Ich-Teilung] and exchanging of the self [Ich-Vertauschung]” (S. Freud 1919, p. 234).  Specters appear in the self-doubling, the self-partitioning, the exchanging oneself into the other.  Specters come out of the incorporated graves of one’s own cemetery, the cemetery of the own—from the self as a cemetery-keeper: “Me: the guard of the cemetery [Moi: gardien de cimetière]” (Derrida 1976, p. 51).

There is no way to bury the undead.  Something is wrong with the ritual.  Something keeps them restless.  Something is wrong with the work of mourning.  This work remains infinite.  There is no way to stop it.  This is the reason why Derrida writes that the work of mourning is “a work on par with other works.  It is the work itself, work in general—the feature that apparently makes it necessary to reconsider the very concept of production [production]—in the aspect in which it is related to trauma, mourning, idealizing iterability of expropriation—thus, to the spectral spiritualization working in any techne” (Derrida 1993, p. 160).

The mourning work proceeds in the incessant discomfort and insistent displacement before the questions who and where.  Who is this?  Where is this?  These questions, who and where, are directly related to the mourning work and the work of melancholy.  The border between these two, mourning and melancholy, is the border between incorporation and introjection.  This is the border between the successful work and a failure.

While following Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok in the preface to their book devoted to the vocabulary of the Wolf-Man, Derrida highlights the difference between the introjective—so to say, ‘normal’—mourning and the incorporative, i.e. ‘pathological’, mourning.  The stress is on the contrast between the “process of introjective inclusion and the phantasm of incorporation, the cryptic structure of incorporative inclusion” (Derrida 1976, p. 51).  Crypt turns an object into “a sort of ‘false unconscious’, the ‘artificial’ unconscious [un inconscient “artificiel”], billeted as a prosthesis, engrafted to the very core of an organ, in the cleft of the self [moi clivé]” (Derrida 1976, p. 11).  The crypt incorporated in one’s own self does not equal the repressed unconscious.  These two topics represent two complementary but incongruent models of the unconscious.  Specters of one’s own self in the self-doubling [Ich-Verdopplung], self-dividing [Ich-Teilung], self-exchanging [Ich-Vertauschung].  The incorporated, i.e. melancholic, mourning preserves the other as ‘other’—that is, as an alien body in “one’s own” psychical reality.  Such preservation, on the one hand, presupposes the appropriation of somebody else’s property; on the other hand, it implies the impossibility of appropriation.  Melancholic mourning is the respect of the absence (death) of the other.

How to expropriate oneself from the other?  How to cope with the phantasmatics of the sovereign self?  How to decide on the phantasmatics of the other in one’s self [l’autre en soi]?  How to deal with one’s self and the heterogeneity of one’s self?  What to do with crypt as a closed oneirodrome?  How to deal with all of one’s “own” crypt, the aliens in one’s self and with “the heterocryptic phantoms returning from the other’s unconscious within the purview of the law that may be called the law of another generation” (Derrida 1976, p. 43)?

Phantasm is the echo of incorporating.  Phantasm is an incarnation.  Phantasm is a representation that has found its flesh.  Phantasm is a paradoxical incarnation, the becoming-body, the incarnation into “another artefactual body, a prosthetic body” [Derrida 1993, p. 203].  In this technical body, in this technobody, the program of melancholy, the program of death is always already at work.  “One’s own” living body generates phantasmatic projections, “ideal prostheses”.  It is this very invention of body that distinguishes specter from spirit according to Derrida.

The specter is eminent with respect to me.  The specter supplements something and substitutes somebody.  It replaces the absent object and in this sense is homological to the fetish.  It is this very reason that makes Derrida assert that “the question of fetishism, as well as the question of ideology, has a central place in the debates on spectrality” (Derrida J. & Stiegler B. 1996, p. 142).  The incarnation of a specter, its borrowed body, is a sign of a fetish.  Moreover, like a fetish, the specter is a bulk of representations ensuing from a disavowal [Verleugnung].  Something is visible due to the disinclination to see something else or the impossibility to see nothing—more precisely, to see nothingness.  Deviation is a trace of such disinclination.  Yet it remains unclear to what degree it is possible to deviate.  Is it at all possible?  Is it possible to turn off the law?  Is it possible to definitively decline the phallus?  Wouldn’t declining be just enacting the law once again?  From phallus—to fetish?  Is it possible to rein in the specter?  No, it is impossible to decline; any struggle is futile due to the spectrality of the law.  What is the use of struggling with the phallus if, according to Lacan, even the real phallus is a ghost?

Meanwhile, ghosts return not (only) for the sake of establishing the law, but also for the sake of supplementing a loss.  “No one is irreplaceable! There are nothing but revenants: all those we have lost come back! [Es ist niemand unersetzlich. Sieh’, nur Revenants; alles was man verloren hat, kommt wieder]” (S. Freud 1900, p .486).  “There are nothing but revenants”.  Freud puts this word, revenants, in French, as if emphasizing the foreignness of the ghost.  Ghosts return in flesh.  Ghosts return in the other.  In another generation.  In fathers and sons.  In the law of inheritance.  In the names of fathers and children.

In talking about the names of children, of his own children, he says that their proper names are not their property.  They are memories of close friends and relatives, they bear the names of other dear persons while children themselves—posterity, descendants—are the possibility of immortality, an access to immortality [Zugang zur Unsterblichkeit].  Revenants are immortal.  Revenants are not living.  Proper names always already turn one’s children into immortal revenants.  Again, Freud puts this word in French and this time in quotation marks: “Their names made the children into revenants [Ihre Namen machen die Kinder zu ‘Revenants’]” (S. Freud 1900, p. 487).  The ghost is always already in a child.  The ghost rests on the identification with the improper proper name.

The other has lent his name.  The other watches how a child bears this name.  Whether a child deserves this name.  The other watches.



7. The science of possession by ghosts

Derrida calls this phenomenon “the visor effect” [effet de visière]: a ghost can see us, it watches us, though to us it remains invisible.  The ghost is not just an object of our contemplation; it is not just one whose return we are witnessing.  The ghost lets us feel that we are being watched by someone, that we are under surveillance.  It takes the place of the law.  The place of no law.  We find ourselves facing the law, though with no exchange of looks, without symmetry before the law.  Before the law of death.  Death taken as something radically different, invisible and unanswered.  No need to keep one’s eyes opened.

Yet, shut eyes are of no help with revenants.  As the song goes,

Let me be your favorite nightmare.

Close your eyes and I’ll be right there.[1]

The gaze surveys.  A gaze ab extra.  The external gaze turning into the internal look.  The gaze “which is redoubled through its passage to the ‘inside’ implies the desistance of this gaze from the object which lends it assistance” (Major 2000, p. 29).  The gaze that lacks the object of a gaze.  The gaze that’s withdrawn from the object.  The gaze that gives a “chance of not being liberated by anyone else but ‘oneself’ and dying of one’s own death” (Major 2000, p. 29).  This withdrawal of the gaze, this detachment of the gaze, this deterrence of the gaze also implies the re-organization of the external and the internal, temporal retardation [Verspätung], and imprinting.  For this very reason, Major says that after reading Derrida one has to acknowledge that desistance turns out “to be a central concept for psychoanalysis” (Major 2000, p. 18).  It only remains to add that no concept can assume a “central” position in psychoanalysis, the least of all repression, which Freud calls “the cornerstone”.  Any “central” concept discomfits its possible centrality by retardation in time and indeterminacy in space.

The retarding gaze.  The intro-external gaze.  The haunting gaze.

The discipline, of which psychoanalysis is a part—or at least which is related to it—is called hantologie by Derrida.  This may be literally translated as hauntology, ghostology, phantomology.  Derrida’s French neologism derives from the verb hanter—‘to follow continually, to disquiet persistently’.  It is usually used to describe a repeated dream, an obsession, a ghost in some distant castle.  Une maison hantée is a haunted house.  Hantise is an obsessive thought, an idée fixe, a mania, psychosis.

However, “meaning” here is not the whole thing.  Assonance is another point here: hantologie sounds barely different from ontologie.  In writing, the difference consists in the ghostly aphonic consonant “h” while in speaking the difference is hiding in a single vowel ‘a’/’o’.  Hantologie indicates the impossibility of ontologie.  The logos of being contains the voice of non-being.  Ghosts undermine the stability of ontology.  The science of ghosts hampers the stabilization of the science of being.  The science of ghosts voices the impossibility of the science of being of becoming the science of being due to the haunting of being by non-being.  This is apparently one of the reasons why Elisabeth Roudinesco calls Specters of Marx Derrida’s most psychoanalytical book, “a deeply Freudian book” (Derrida, Roudinesco 2001, p. 284) despite the fact that Freud (more precisely, Freud’s Uncanny) is only mentioned once in a footnote.  Freud’s specter is haunting Specters of Marx.  One can even take Freud’s specter for one of the specters of Marx.  In any case, Specters of Marx, a book that is not directly related to psychoanalysis, may and should be included in the psychoanalytical archive.

Meanwhile, phantomology—together with psychoanalysis—is extremely important today, at the time of transition from the disciplinary society to the society of total control.  At the time of media-surveying systems.  At the time of stimulation of the syndrome of psychic automatism.  At the time of industrial production of specters, the reproduction of “these things”, the pipeline for the “animation of ghosts”.  At the time of “idealizing iterability that is active in any techne”.

How to escape from being haunted?  How to escape from surveillance?  How to keep from lapsing into paranoia?



8. The heritage of techno-actuvirtuality

Ghosts haunt.  The ghosts of the past, memory, the archive of mnesic traces.  The ghosts of psychic reality.  The ghosts of the future.  The ghosts of the technical reality.  The ghosts of the psycho-technical supplementing.

In his article Freud and the Scene of Writing, Derrida calls attention to the fact that Freud repeatedly describes (living) psychical reality in terms of the (dead) writing apparatus.  The general question of psychoanalysis, the question of psychical reality, the question of topics, the question of the psychical apparatus turns out to be directly related to the question of oneirography, the question of the breaching [Bahnung] of the psychical traces, the question of registration of mnesic traces and the mechanisms of perceiving-memorizing-forgetting.  Derrida’s path [Bahn] runs on the chronological rails [Bahngeleise] of Freud: from the Project for a Scientific Psychology (1895) via the letter to W. Fliess from December 6, 1896 via The Interpretation of Dreams (1899) via The Unconscious (1915) to A Note Upon the ‘Mystic Writing-pad’ (1924).

One of the key questions Freud poses in his Project of 1895 is, How can the system composed of interrelated different neurons be receptive to new perceptions while retaining the influence of old stimuli?  In other words, he is preoccupied with the question of memory’s pathways.  The memory of past breaches is represented by the lower resistance on the often traveled paths.

For Derrida, the significance of the psychoanalytical interpretation of memory lays not so much in the realm of neurological credibility as in the way this interpretation is being applied to the model of psychical representation, thus displacing this model of “brain writing” whose inscriptions are present or absent as marks on a white sheet.  It is impossible to identify a memory trace with any specific way or pathway since memory appears to be the absolutely open system of differences.  The origin of memory and, therefore, of the soul, is in the difference between the breaches, the trodden paths.  Memory is represented primarily by a differentiated text, rather than by any absolute qualities in the neuron system.  Furthermore, it is represented not so much by the text as by possible textual traces, by the differences of the trodden paths.  Moreover, these differences do not form a closed system – rather, they remain in the condition of deference.

A mnesic trace does not belong to any definite ensemble of differences since its function requires a new breaching.  Alterations depend on the intensity of resistance.  There are no primordial mnesic traces that would be stored as identical to themselves and would be, as such, reproduced in recollection: “repetition is not subjoined [ne survient pas] to the first impression, it is not superinduced from the outside, its possibility is already here—in the resistance maintained at the first time by the psychic neurons.  Even resistance is impossible unless the confrontation of powers is going on from the very beginning and is being repeated again and again.  What becomes cryptic is the very idea of the first time” (Derrida 1967, p. 301).  The concepts of “origin”, “originality”, “the elementary” become cryptic.  Freud is possessed by the persecution of the ghosts of originality, though each origin reveals but an origin of origin behind itself.  Originality degenerates into derivativeness.  The elementary turns out to be decomposable.  The archive of mnesic traces shows itself not so much as a storehouse of memories as an open system of possibilities realizable on various re-breached pathways.  A trace is not simply a trace of an event.  Rather, any trace requires tracing.  A trace requires laying a path.  Such is “the itinerary [itinérant] work of the trace that treads its path and does not run along it, of the tracing trace, the trace that breaches its own way” (Derrida 1967, p. 317).

For Derrida, psychoanalysis is not only a doctrine of the trace and a discipline of specters but also a theory of archives.  In his book Archive Fever, Derrida writes that “psychoanalysis must have made a revolution—at least, potentially—in the problematics of archives” (Derrida 1995, p. 2).  For deconstruction, the archive “is” the event.  Psychoanalysis sticks to general “archivology” along two lines.  In the first place, this hypothetical discipline must include psychoanalysis as a general science of archives with all its explorations of the theory of traces in their technologically prosthetic aspects.  In the second place, general archivology must appear under the rubric of the critique of psychoanalysis in order to unite its logic, concepts, meta-psychology, economics and topics.

The pleasure principle and the death drive preserve and archive traces.  According to Freud, the main characteristic of drives is their conservative nature, their striving to return to a past condition.  This characteristic thus implies the saving and deletion, the common safekeeping in the difference and deletion of traces.  Archiving simultaneously saves the traces and covers them up.  Archiving creates an archive and at the same time destroys it.

In his Archive Fever, Derrida readdresses the topic he started developing in Freud and the Scene of Writing.  He connects psychoanalysis, its history and thinking with the technique of archiving and a science that, being a techno-science, may consist, in its own development, in the transformation of archiving techniques and the processes of imprinting, inscribing, reproduction, formalization, encoding and translation of signs.  Psychoanalytical work is the coding and decoding of records; it implies repressing, impressing and reading them.  As an archivological techno-science of inheriting, psychoanalysis must be aware that “there is no heritage but where assignments are multiple and contradictory, secret enough to challenge the interpretation in order to require the risk without limits of active interpreting” (Derrida J. & Stiegler B. 1996, p. 34).  The archivological science of psychoanalysis is also an exorcise-analysis, a techno-exorcise-analysis: to exorcise specters, “to exorcise-analyze is to practice the analysis that follows the logic of possession by specters” (Derrida 1993, p. 84).  Psychoanalysis is based on technologies for memorizing and keeping records.  Hence, there arises a fundamentally important question regarding the destiny of psychoanalysis in a new epoch: “What shall happen to psychoanalysis in the era of e-mail, telephone cards, multimedia and computer compact discs?” (Derrida 1995, р. 2).  Each epoch has “a different modality, a different modus of phantoms” (Derrida 1993, p. 274).

Proceeding with his investigations of recording techniques in his Archive Fever, Derrida points out that Freud’s Mystic Writing-pad contains the problematics regarding the internal and external.  It is an external model of (internal) psychical apparatus.  However, this multilayer recording and memorizing apparatus includes both inner and outer systems.  It contains the internal of the psyche itself, “the necessity for something external, for some boundaries between the internal and external” (Derrida 1995, p. 37).  Derrida speaks of the inner externality—more precisely, the domestic externality [dehors domestique]—unwillingly calling to memory Freud’s own comparison of the psyche with a house.  While Freud was interested in who the master of the house is, Derrida stresses the indeterminacy of the limits, the “walls” of this house.

It is even more so when the limits of the public and private spaces are fuzzy and the boundary is always in constant shift.  The inner and outer turn out to be quite dubious once again.  It is the impossibility of differentiation and the fundamental indefiniteness that lets out techno-ghosts: “If this basic boundary shifts, the medium in which it establishes itself, namely the medium of the media themselves [le medium des media même] (information, the press, telecommunications, techno-telediscursiveness, techno-teleiconics—anything that in general assures and determines the spacing [l’espacement] of public space, the very possibility of the res publica and the phenomenality of the political), this element itself is neither living nor dead, neither present nor absent, it spectralizes” (Derrida 1993, p. 89).

We again find ourselves on the spectral borderline between the psychical and practical realities.  Yet Derrida is talking of the virtual and actual realities.  Where does the border lie between them?  Derrida answers this undecidable question with the neologism actuvirtuality.

Actuvirtuality is certainly not identical to psychical reality, but similar to it.  Actuality seems to be based on presence while virtuality is based on the possibility of presence.  Actuvirtuality does not allow one to talk of the actual in terms of presence.  For instance, although television has live broadcasts and interrupts its programs to show “actuality shots”, what it in fact shows is the virtuality of the actual and the actuality of the virtual.  Digital and satellite technologies wash away the opposition between the private and public, the close and the distant, the inner and the outer, the local and the global, the authentic and the fake, the present and the past, the real and the phantasmal.

Time is artefactual.  Its artefactuality is marked by the fact that actuality is not given but is actively produced by a multitude of apparatuses that hierarchies and select events.  Time is determined by the speed of an event’s production-capitalization, the speed of dissemination of information, the speed of outliving the tele-presence, the speed of the appearance of synthetic and prosthetic simulacra.  It is impossible not to meet specters in these techno-ideo-lobbies.  The phantom limbs, prostheses are at work.  The result of the transfer of the outer to the inner is the appearance of the inner prosthesis [prothèse du dedans].  Inner prosthesis makes the break-up between man and nature and the tele-technologicalness of human being apparent.



9. Ghost on prostheses

Freud introduces his concept of prosthesis in Civilization and Its Discontents (1930).  He comes to this notion after discussing the border between the internal and external, self-restraint and a baby who “does not as yet distinguish his ego from the external world as the source of the sensation flowing in upon him” (S. Freud 1930, pp. 66-67).  The projected internal objects are gradually perceived as external.  They are initially associated with unpleasant impressions, such as absence of the breast, pain, and discontent.  Due to these impressions “a tendency arises to separate from the ego everything that can become a source of such unpleasure, to throw it outside [nach außen zu werfen] and to create a pure pleasure-ego [ein reines Lust-Ich zu bilden] which is confronted by a strange and threatening ‘outside’ [Draußen]” (S. Freud 1930, p. 67).  Many different prostheses establish themselves on the borderline of the actuvirtual universe, between the internal and external.  Ghosts settle down on this borderline of the pulsating universe, between the internal and external.  “Originally the ego includes everything, later it separates off an external world from itself.  Our present ego-feeling is, therefore, only a shrunken residue of a much more inclusive – indeed, an all-embracing – feeling which corresponds to a more intimate bond between the ego and the world about it” (S. Freud 1930, p. 68).  Ego is a shrunken residue or, rather, a residue of contraction, shrinking [eingeschrumpfter Rest].  Ego is a residue of the internal unity with the external.  Ego is a refusal of projecting.  Ego is a prosthetic artifact.

There are prostheses between the (non-)internal and (non-)external.  Anthropogenesis is techno-genesis.  The “origins” of men belong neither to the natural, nor to the artificial but to the artifactuality, actuvirtual psychotechnoprosthetics.  Human essence is to be found in the supplementing of the borderline insufficiency with techno-ghosts, in tele-translation of oneself beyond one’s impossible limits.

Freud links the emergence of culture, the origin of human beings, the establishment of law with (actuvirtual) patricide.  The establishment of law is backed post factum [nachträglich], deferred, by its infringement and return of the father’s ghost from nothingness.  The establishment of law is retrospectively [nachträglich] preceded by the phantasm of the means of murder.  The ratification of law and the appearance of the means of murder delaminate time.  The step to the appearance of man, the “transition to the origin of man occurs as an invention of weapons, i.e. technique as whole and, therefore, the structures of anticipation.  In other words, technogenesis is anthropogenesis as a beginning of temporal ecstasy wherein the past, present and future are differentiated” (Stiegler 2001, p. 26).

The ghost is found in time.  The ghost produces the time rapture.  Detachment in the presence of the present, a sort of non-contemporaneity of the present to itself, radical achronia produces ghosts.  What had already been returns, creating the idea of the present.  However, the past does not create the present – rather, it determines the conditions of its being.  The past appears after the present.  Some abstract absolute past is a possibility of the present.  Absolute past, the term coined by Bernard Stiegler, is what “precedes the very possibility of the differentiation of times.  This absolute past is inhabited by a male, yet not a father, murdered with his children’s weapon, their armament, but being dead he is still more powerful, he is more than just a man, he is a quasi-deity” (Stiegler 2001, p. 26); he is the ghost on prostheses.  He is a supplement of his own impossibility.  He is a law and deficiency of the origin.

In his analysis of anthropotechnogenesis, Stiegler addresses the forgotten brother of the unforgettable (unforgotten, among others, by Freud) Prometheus–Epimetheus.  Both brothers make a double mistake.  Epimetheus forgets about the human race and grants it no talents.  Prometheus provides it with the divine tools which, however, cannot eliminate its deficiency, its biological insufficiency.  To correct Epimetheus’ fault, Prometheus places mortals beyond their limits, which predetermines their mortality.  Instead of talents they get prostheses.  Prostheses determine the being of a human.  Prostheses supplement a human and constitute the very non-human ‘essence’ of the human.

Prostheses deconstruct the opposition of the artificial/natural, techne/physis.  The nature of human beings is beyond nature.  Technology seems to alienate man from himself, from the own sense of being, but it is technology that creates this sense.  Man is between what is called natural and what is called technical in himself.  He is in his supplementarity; his living presence is already supplemented with the phantasmatic, prosthesizing non-presence.  Ghosts are the witnesses of man’s death no less than of his life.

The process of supplementing contains a question: How can something definite, complete in itself, in the fullness of its presence, be supplemented with something else?  What is called an integral and all-sufficient person bears some deficiency, insufficiency or incompleteness.  Man is a supplementing man.  Supplement recompenses the absence of natural man.  Nor is man a rational animal that “sometimes manages to be an enjoying animal, sometimes a rational being” or even a techno-animal.  Man is an artefactual techno-being of actuvirtuality.



10. Techno-being

The question of specters turns out to be directly related to the question of technique.  It is technique that discomfits the ordinary understanding of space and time; it is technique that disorganizes and reorganizes actuvirtuality.  Techno-reorganization of space and time releases specters.  They haunt the subject and assail it by showing that death is already here [Da], in front of you; death is already there [Fort], behind you.  You are a dead man.  Specters are deathless.

Technical reproducibility brings about the effect of haunting.  Photographic, cinematographic, TV, telephone, computer techno-realities reveal the ghosts that outlive their ‘master’, survive and attest to his absence.  Ghosts are not the subject, not a copy of some original, not a reiteration but the back side of the tele-technosubjectivity effect.  Reproducibility reinforces the effect of iterability [itérabilité].

Ghosts show another aspect of the same.  Iterability assigns the structure of the-same-in-the-difference.  Ghosts do not belong to the world of the so called non-iterable things, it is not assigned to the world of so-called presence.  The single appearance of a ghost already contains the possibility of iteration.  What manifested itself once is already the future un-manifest.  The appearance of a ghost is a trace of a ghost.  Iterability reiterates the appearance and calls into doubt the very iteration: Is that the same?  Is that the same ghost or another one?

In non-iterable iteration the ghosts return again and again.  The impersonal ghost, es spukt, starts off in the automatism of iteration.  The product of the automat is caused not so much by the presence of man in the reign of spirit [das Reich der Geistigkeit] that already contains spirits [Geist] as by the transition to this world.  By the constantly repeating transition to this other world. The non-iterable iteration of awakening and leaving the world of dreams foreshows such a dénouement.

Furthermore, the iterability effect participates in the oneirization of the “outer” world.  Oneirization is a supplementarity that assigns and differentiates psychical space.  Techno-oneirization hurls together the psychical and non-psychical, life and death, it produces the sense of time and disorders it.  Writing becomes the technique that relates life to death, the present to the represented.  Oneirography poses the question of technique, the question of apparatus in general and the analogy between psychical and non-psychical apparatuses in particular.

In Civilization and Its Discontents Freud emphasizes the peculiarities of psychical writing.  First, it keeps what has been once written: what was formed in the psychical reality is kept in the archive of the unconscious and may re-appear under certain circumstances.  Second, what has once been written works itself into the succeeding notes, deforms and reforms itself—in other words, loses its “original” look, iterates itself in a non-iterable way.  Freud uses the analogy of the stages of corporal ontogenetic development in which the following stages absorb the preceding ones.  On the basis of this analogy, as well as the archeological analogy, he replaces a statement with the actuvirtuality of the preservation of the record, adding a multi-potential tint to the new wording: apparently, “we ought to content ourselves with asserting that what is past in mental life may be preserved and is not necessarily destroyed” (S. Freud 1930, p. 71).  Thus, particular traces are being destroyed or absorbed so that they can in no way be restored.

These traces are the traces of culture where, and only where, man can exist; these traces that man inherits when entering the space of culture and becoming its subject.  This history of cultural heritage is a technological history of prosthetizing/procreation of the so-called reality.  Freud traces this history back to the taming of fire that, together with other means, “opened up paths which man has followed ever since” (S. Freud 1930, p. 90).  Such is the way of Prometheus, a techno-way: “With every tool man is perfecting his own organs, whether motor or sensory, or is removing the limits to their functioning [Mit all seinen Werkzeugen vervollkommnet der Mensch seine Organe—die motorischen wie die sensorischen—oder räumt die Schranken für ihre Leistung weg]” (S. Freud 1930, p. 90), is going beyond the limits [die Schranken].  This is the road of ‘motors’, ‘steamboats’, ‘airplanes’, ‘glasses’, ‘telescopes’, ‘microscopes’, ‘cameras’, ‘gramophones’, ‘telephones’.  On this road one has to perfect [vervollkomnen] the organ—to supplement its insufficiency [ver-], to make it complete [vollkommen].  There is no Prometheus without Epimetheus.

One cannot feel the prosthesis.  Prosthesis is a phantom limb.  Prosthesis is phantomogenic.  Yet, in talking of cameras and the gramophone, Freud emphasizes not so much the phantasmatic character of a taken photo-image or a voice unaccompanied by the presence of the person singing, as the fact that “both are at bottom materializations of the power he possesses of recollection, his memory [Materialisationen des ihm gegebenen Vermögens der Erinnerung, seines Gedächtnisses]” (S. Freud 1930, p. 91).  Who granted man such power?  Didn’t Epimetheus forget man?  Did he remember the recollection?  Or is this Prometheus’ work?  Memory is technique.  Prostheses are the materialization of technique.  Memory is archive.  Prostheses are the materialization of archives.

In Archive Fever, Derrida repeats his statement that Freud’s A Note upon the Mystic Writing-Pad establishes a connection between the way of archiving, technique and death.  The question of the archiving technique is important since “the technical structure of archiving archives also predetermines the structure of the archived in its very origin and its relation to the future.  The product of archiving appears at the very moment of the event’s registration” (Derrida 1995, p. 34).



11. The struggle for heritage

Archive, technique and heritage connect the subject not only to death but also to immortality.  How can ghosts not appear in such a situation?  However, there is yet another question: Are these ghosts a part of the heritage that also includes the technique or are they somehow inherited biologically?  Again: Where did the ghost of the father come from?  Was it a part of the heritage together with the name?  Was it inherited biologically?

It is these two concepts, heritage and inheriting, that Bernard Stiegler suggests to distinguish.  Sigmund Freud alternates between these two concepts: he oscillates without making any final decision.  It is impossible to make such a decision when one is haunted by the ghosts of strict science; when the ghosts of trans-generational phylogenetic heritage give one no peace.  Freud is hesitating.  The ghosts of occultism are hustling into the house of psychoanalysis along the pathways breached by science.

Certain logic seems to show itself in Freud’s hesitation about the issue of heritage/inheriting.  It cannot be otherwise since heritage is never something given—“it is always a task” (Derrida 1993, p. 94).  The undecidable task pops up whenever Freud comes to the limit, finds himself at the limits of being since “the being of what we are is, first of all, heritage” (Derrida 1993, p. 94).  Heritage that always already connects being to what is beyond it, to what is beyond the limit.  The question of existence and the subject of existence is the question of life and death, the living and the dead, heritage and inheriting.

The question of the preservation of legends, the conveyance of tradition, of heritage and inheriting, is the question of the origin of ghosts.  The appearance of the incorporated, or phylogenetic recollections?  The return of the repressed, or the memory of the generations before us?  Do I remember what happened to me or do I “only remember what happened not to me”?

In Moses and Monotheism the question of archaic heritage returns to Freud once again.  In the section “Difficulties” Freud writes that the question of the form in which an active tradition is present at hand [ist vorhanden] in the life of a people is “a question which does not occur with individuals, since there it is solved by the existence in the unconscious of memory-traces of the past [durch die Existenz der Erinnerungsspuren des Vergangenen im Umbewussten erledigt]” (S. Freud 1939, p. 93).  The question of trans-individual memory, the question of the conveyance of tradition is, according to Freud, beyond the limits of an individual.  An individual is the unconscious transmitter of tradition while a people is capable of being aware of its tradition.  Here, Freud emphasizes the impossibility of the oral conveyance of heritage.  “When I spoke of the survival of a tradition among a people or of the formation of a people’s character, I had mostly in mind an inherited tradition [ererbte Tradition] of this kind and not one transmitted by communication” (S. Freud 1939, p. 90-100).  Thus, there are two traditions.  The problem is that the memories of the forefather had been completely forgotten as millennia went by; they could not be preserved in the form of oral legend.  Paraphrase is already the conscious awareness and the connection to the word.  Oral legend does not imply obsessive repetition.  Freud adduces the concluding psychological argument: “A tradition that was based only on communication could not lead to the compulsive character that attaches to religious phenomena” (S. Freud 1939, p. 101).  The paradox lies in the fact that it is the word that implies repetition while the communicated word implies the absence of obsessiveness in its repetition.  The replacement of the word by the deed turns repetition into obsession.

Is the inherited outside paraphrase to be understood as the repressed?  Is the non-verbalized inheritance to be taken as the repressed that is prescribed to return?  Freud points out that “what is forgotten is not extinguished [ist nicht ausgelöscht] but only ‘repressed’; its memory-traces are present in their freshness, but isolated by ‘anticathexes’ [aber durch “Gegenbesetzungen” isoliert]” (S. Freud 1939, p. 94).

However, repression cannot explain the mechanism of conveyance of the repressed from generation to generation.  It takes Freud several pages to discuss repression as if postponing the explanation of the mechanism of trans-generational conveyance.  Repression explains “the personally experienced [Selbsterlebtes]”.  However, “what may be operative in an individual’s psychical life may include not only what he has experienced himself but also things that were innately present in him at his birth, elements with a phylogenetic origin – an archaic heritage [archaische Erbschaft]” (S. Freud 1939, p. 98).  Impersonal contents that are not one’s own may become one’s property.  Heritage may be appropriated.

This time, “one’s own” archaic heritage is being re-appropriated.  Having appeared (not uninfluenced by the ghost of Jung) in Totem and Taboo (1912), it returns either in connection with ambivalence (Instincts and Their Vicissitudes, 1915) or in connection with the primal fantasies of the Wolf-Man (1918) or in connection with inheriting the feeling of guilt (The Ego and the Id, 1923).  Freud tries to cope with this incorporated heritage as with his own.

The question of inheriting is not limited to the terms of the subjective and trans-subjective, belonging to one’s own generation and to the preceding ones.  Rather, the paradox is somewhat different: heritage is what you master, but of which you cannot decisively be the master.  Heritage is what is being acquired (again and again) in resistance.  Subjectivization, the automatic acquisition of the illusion of autonomy, is impossible without resistance to heritage.  In this respect heritage is never accepted passively.  Heritage is not simply archiving and accumulation.  Heritage is neither a bank nor a storehouse.  It prescribes decision making: What is to be done with this whole heritage?  What will the obligation suggest?

The obligation of heritage implies the advance to the realm of spirit.  Obligation compels one to make a decision in favor of reason.  The ghost of obligation is for reason! Ghosts demand rationalization.  Freud makes a decision.  Advancing to the “proper” human realm of spirit “consists in deciding against direct sense-perception in favor of what are known as the higher intellectual processes—that is, memories, reflections and inferences.  It consists, for instance, in deciding that paternity is more important than maternity, although it cannot, like the latter, be established by the evidence of the senses, and for that reason the child should bear his father’s name and be his heir [soll das Kind den Namen des Vaters tragen und nach ihm erben]” (S. Freud 1939, pp. 117-8).  A child should inherit the ghost of the father whose existence “cannot be established by the evidence of the senses”.  The shibboleth of psychoanalysis is the Oedipus complex.  The shibboleth of the Oedipus complex is the name of the father [le nom du père].  The transition to the realm of spirit is the transition to the improvable ghostly world of the law: the transition to the world of reason on the order of ghosts.  Reason is possessed by ghosts.

Thus, it is not only his own experiences that act in the psychical life of an individual but also the experiences of others, experiences on behalf of others and the inherited contents of, as Freud puts it, “partly phylogenetic origin”.  The partly “archaic heritage” of the phylogenetic origin.  Freud is silent about the other part.  One can suppose that the non-phylogenetic part of the archive includes the inherited psychological characteristics acquired by the previous generation.  The phylogenetic asset of Darwin is complemented by the heritage of Lamarck.  The ghost of Lamarck gives Freud no peace.  He unhesitatingly asserts that “men have always known [immer gewußt] (in this special way) that they once possessed a primal father and killed him” (S. Freud 1939, p. 101).  Freud is sure: the archaic heritage is indispensable and it is only Lamarck’s spirit with his theory that is able to help.  How?  “In this special way” [in jener besonderen Weise].  Furthermore, what is being inherited in this special way is not only the murder of the primal father but also the knowledge of this misdeed.  Freud is not disconcerted with Darwin’s historical triumph over Lamarck.  However, he admits that his position “is made more difficult by the present attitude of biological science, which refuses to hear of the inheritance of acquired characters by succeeding generations” (S. Freud 1939, p. 100).  It is up till now that biological science refuses to understand the Lamarckian conveyance “in this special way”.

The question of Darwin and Lamarck in Freud’s systems of inheritance may be decided by distinguishing between two evolutions to which man is heir.  For Freud, the evolution of man remains “Darwinian in the genetic respect” but “Lamarckian in respect to language and culture” (Stiegler 2001, p. 37).  Furthermore, if we move from one of Freud’s concept to the other, if we pass from the “human animal” to the “technohuman” taken as a “deity on prostheses” and a ghost on prostheses, the issue of inheriting turns out to the a question of technique.  Then one should “talk not simply about language and ‘culture’ in the general and the oblique sense of the word but about technique in the proper sense, technique in all its varieties, and not only about the technique known as the specifically hypomnesic technique” (Stiegler 2001, p. 37).

What exactly is hereditary according to Freud?

– certain inclinations and dispositions [Dispositionen].  However, this is not all.  The ghost never comes alone.  Once the ghost of Lamarck has shown itself, there also appears the ghost of Jung and the crypt of symbolism opens, replacing individual meanings with universals – “the universality of symbolism in language [die Allgemeinheit der Sprachsymbolik]” (S. Freud 1939, p. 98).  But again, this is not all.  These ghosts are joined by new ones.  Freud is visited by the ghost of Plato: “It is a question of an original knowledge which adults afterwards forget” (S. Freud 1939, p. 98).  This time it is not the primal fantasies [Urphantasien] that are discussed but the original knowledge [urspüngliches Wissen] of the murder of a primal father [Urvater].  No wonder that this time “symbolism disregards differences of language” (S. Freud 1939, p. 99).  Furthermore, Freud is visited by a ghost from the future.  The ghost of Chomsky with the heritage of generative linguistics: “It might be said that we are dealing with thought-connections between ideas – connections which had been established during the historical development of speech and which have to be repeated now every time the development of speech has to be gone through in an individual” (S. Freud 1939, p. 99).  Then, he sees the return of the apparition of the trauma theory with one’s own actual experiences: “When we study the reactions to early traumas, we are quite often surprised to find that they are not strictly limited to what the subject himself has really experienced but diverge from it in a way which fits in much better with the model of a phylogenetic event and, in general, can only be explained by such an influence” (S. Freud 1939, p. 99).  What’s more–not to say what’s worse–it turns out that the Oedipus complex as well as the castration complex is prescribed by a phylogenetic event since it “abounds in such reactions, which seem unjustified in the individual case and only become intelligible phylogenetically – by their connection with the experience of earlier generations” (S. Freud 1939, p. 99).  Reactions may be justified and become intelligible phylogenetically.  In the round dance of ghosts.

The reel or round dance of ghosts takes Freud to the final decision: “The archaic heritage of human beings comprises not only dispositions but also subject-matter [Inhalte]—memory-traces of the experience of earlier generations [Erinnerungsspuren an das Erleben früherer Generationen].  In this way the compass as well as the importance of the archaic heritage would be significantly extended” (S. Freud 1939, p. 99).  Thus, in defiance of Freud, Freud asserts that tradition does have some relation to an individual and does “in this special way” realize itself “by means of the unconscious memory-traces of the past”.

Without noticing the ghosts, Freud seems to regain the firm ground of biological science: the “archaic heritage” of “the human animal” “corresponds” “to the instincts of animals” (S. Freud 1939, p. 100).  “The human animal” [Menschentier] succeeds in alternating between taking pleasure on behalf of the animal in a nature reserve bearing the name of Rousseau’s ghost and dwelling in the realm of spirituality.  “Archaic heritage” replaces instincts.  Hasn’t this place been already taken by the drives?  In what way does something become a part of the archaic heritage?

If a historical event turns out to be important and repetitive (as it is in the case of patricide), the recollection becomes a part of the archaic heritage.  Is this recollection a drive?  A drive arose by the encounter with a real repetition of the event: “What is certainly of decisive importance, however, is the awakening of the forgotten memory-trace by a recent real repetition of the event [die Erweckung der vergessenen Erinnerungsspur durch eie rezente reale Wiederholung des Ereignisses]” (S. Freud 1939, p. 101).  Here we are: the real repetition.  Not a mirage, a vision, but “a recent real repetition of the event”.  The unrepeatable repeats.  Does it repeat in reality?  What else is Freud aiming at?—“Something else.  We are diminishing the gulf which earlier periods of human arrogance had torn too wide apart between mankind and animals” (S. Freud 1939, p. 100), up to the human animal.

However, this gulf becomes deeper and deeper.  It is deepened by the evolution of prostheses, development of techno-man, misadventures of the man-ghost.  Man “appears due to objects that are the inorganic beings, technical and organized, placed between life and death, the traces of completed lives, even phantoms: heritage is always haunting.  However, this also means, beyond the imprinting, in the very biological archivology that finally constitutes epiphylogenesis, that life since it is being prosthesized, is no longer evolving according to the neo-Darwinian law the theory of which is being developed by molecular biology” (Stiegler 2001, p. 38).  While one Freud is developing a theory of prostheses, another one follows developments of molecular biology, yet another is attracted to Lamarck, yet another…

Freud sees how “in this special way” the inherited “by means of the unconscious memory-traces of the past” are revived under the influence of “a real repetition of the event”.  It even seems to him now that otherwise the psychoanalytical machine would come to a standstill.  “Granted that at the time we have no stronger evidence for the presence of memory-traces in the archaic heritage than the residual phenomena of the work of analysis which call for a phylogenetic derivation, yet this evidence seems to us so strong enough to postulate that such is the fact.  If it is not so, we shall not advance a step further along the path we entered on, either in analysis or in group psychology.  The audacity cannot be avoided” (S. Freud 1939, p. 100).  Thus, “we have no stronger evidence for the presence of memory-traces in the archaic heritage than the residual phenomena of the work of analysis which call for a phylogenetic derivation”.  It is in psychoanalytic work that the specters of archaic heritage appear and without these specters, Freud is persuading himself, it is impossible to get anywhere.

However, isn’t the opposite true?  Aren’t these specters destroying the psychoanalytical machine?  What specters are haunting Freud?   More precisely: Why are they haunting him?

Freud in self-doubling [Ich-Verdopplung], self-dividing [Ich-Teilung], self-exchanging [Ich-Vertauschung].  There is no single Freud and there cannot be one since it was he who developed the theories of the impossible homogenous Ich, the theories of the heterogeneous self.  It is not Freud but his own Ich, his own cemetery guard, who cannot restrain the cryptography of the inexorable ghosts of occultism and science.  The ghosts of Plato and Lamarck, Rousseau and Jung…  The round dance of ghosts.  One is driven by another.  They only lack numbers similar to those used among soccer players.

Translated from the Russian by Olga and Peter Serebryany




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[1] Mos Def, “The Boogie Man Song”, 2004 Geffen Rec.

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