“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

experiment three

My last post was not meant to show that Kierkegaard was directly influenced by the Mesmerists, or by the use of hypnosis, when he uses the term psychological experiment – although in fact, as he had taken University courses in psychology, he undoubtedly had read something about animal magnetism. But rather I wanted to show links here, chains, connections, intersignes, in which an eighteenth century scene of experiment/seduction is played out on a woman - Puysegur’s patient - who resists him, in the end, allowing him the fetish objects - shoe or bonnet - but nothing more. And I wanted the odd commonality of the fly swatter to stand out - passed from the patient's hand to C.C.'s, chasing after the revolutionary flies of Berlin.

Under the pressure of the observer's gaze, we watch the experiment as a situation under the control of the pseudonym slip out of his hands, and see it appear in Kierkegaard’s hands, where instead of an experiment applied by C.C. to his 'subjects', it is applied to the text itself - the text is an experiment about experiments. And so we have outlined the first problem, the problem of the first page, the problem of the title.

The problem – psychological? Textual? Scientific? then – such is the way of this slippery signifier – seems to slip at this moment, while we are adjusting our glasses, looking at the screen - where we read the text - out of Kierkegaard’s hands too - or out of his control. For what kind of control does our author behind the author have? Why is it that experiment and seduction, experiment and the female, keep finding each other? And not according to the protocols of the manipulated chance in which the experimenter excels, but according to the protocols of nemesis, of fate, of obsession, of luck, it seems. And the experimenter – who is he, and what are his standards? What are his ‘controls”? What is his institutional background?

The institutional background – science, art, religion – is not just a matter of existential stages. Constantine Constantinus, after all, appears so unattached to economic activity, and so, consequently, at leisure to collect cases, a situation that – perhaps – is the reason the young man in Repetition finds him odd – and later on, decides that he is mad. Until, of course, C.C. decides the young man is inexistent. If madness is lack of labor – or if madness is labor that is not socially recognized… And if madness creates situations that are, to the madman’s gaze, experiments, although not so recognized by any others in the social order...

Of course, it is true that this has also happened, in the twentieth century, within institutional psychology. The famous Milgram experiment, for instance, about which one can also ask about its double form – for the participants thought they were in one experiment when they were really in another. They thought they were seeing how much pain a subject could take, when they were really subjects testing how much they would obey an order.

Thus, C.C. is not entirely out of the range of experimenters, eccentric and fictional as he is, eccentric and fictional as they represent themselves. But surely we have seen this psychological experimenter/seducer before, and not as a premonition of our own actuality, but as a figure from the eighteenth century past – for the adventurer develops just such a cold aesthetic objectivity in order to be able to travel between classes and principalities. There is a transformation of types, here, a transubstatantiation – from Don Giovanni to Dupin. C.C. is, in fact, one of those figures that hover around the idea of the detective – that amateur of crime.

How a word will creep into a text. How a word will creep into my ear and down into my heart. All this creeping about.

In the Concept of Anxiety, the psychological observer is described as a sort of actor – or rope dancer. I’ll translate from the German text I have:

“Whoever is concerned in high style with psychology and psychological observation has to take on himself a general human suppleness that puts him in the position to shape his examples right away, and these then have a whole other power of proof, although they don’t possess the appearance of facticity. As the psychological observer must possess a more than rope dancerish nimbleness in order to throw himself imaginatively into people and be able to mimic their attitudes; as his silence in confidential moments must have something seductive and pleasant, so that the disclosed matter can find comfort in this fact, under this artfully brought about inconspicuousness and stillness, and creep out and to unburden itself as in a soliloquy: he must in his soul possess a poetic originality, in order to be able to form all at once, out of that which always presents itself all in pieces and irregularly to the individual, a totality and regularity.”

Two shadows seem to appear to us on the edge of this text. One is Freud – notice how this sketch, which seems to reach out to the psychoanalytic technique of Uebertragen, even denies personhood to the discloser, but instead speaks as though the disclosed were an Es, a thing within the person. The other shadow is given to us by a story that appeared in 1841 on the other side of the Atlantic:

“A certain set of highly ingenious resources are, with the Prefect, a sort of Procrustean bed, to which he forcibly adapts his designs. But he perpetually errs by being too deep or too shallow, for the matter in hand; and many a schoolboy is a better reasoner than he. I knew one about eight years of age, whose success at guessing in the game of 'even and odd' attracted universal admiration. This game is simple, and is played with marbles. One player holds in his hand a number of these toys, and demands of another whether that number is even or odd. If the guess is right, the guesser wins one; if wrong, he loses one. The boy to whom I allude won all the marbles of the school. Of course he had some principle of guessing; and this lay in mere observation and admeasurement of the astuteness of his opponents. For example, an arrant simpleton is his opponent, and, holding up his closed hand, asks, 'are they even or odd?' Our schoolboy replies, 'odd,' and loses; but upon the second trial he wins, for he then says to himself, 'the simpleton had them even upon the first trial, and his amount of cunning is just sufficient to make him have them odd upon the second; I will therefore guess odd;'—he guesses odd, and wins. Now, with a simpleton a degree above the first, he would have reasoned thus: 'This fellow finds that in the first instance I guessed odd, and, in the second, he will propose to himself, upon the first impulse, a simple variation from even to odd, as did the first simpleton; but then a second thought will suggest that this is too simple a variation, and finally he will decide upon putting it even as before. I will therefore guess even;'—he guesses even, and wins. Now this mode of reasoning in the schoolboy, whom his fellows termed 'lucky,'—what, in its last analysis, is it?"
"It is merely," I said, "an identification of the reasoner's intellect with that of his opponent."
"It is," said Dupin; "and, upon inquiring, of the boy by what means he effected the thorough identification in which his success consisted, I received answer as follows: 'When I wish to find out how wise, or how stupid, or how good, or how wicked is any one, or what are his thoughts at the moment, I fashion the expression of my face, as accurately as possible, in accordance with the expression of his, and then wait to see what thoughts or sentiments arise in my mind or heart, as if to match or correspond with the expression.' This response of the schoolboy lies at the bottom of all the spurious profundity which has been attributed to Rochefoucault, to La Bougive, to Machiavelli, and to Campanella."

Carte de la retourne.

experiment 2: the mark of the flyswatter

In the last post we began to touch on the meaning of ‘experiment’ in Repetition. The notion of the experiment as an exercise in cruelty played a major role in Kierkegaard’s battle with the Corsair, when Moller, his opponent, rightly picked up on the cruelty involved in using an ‘experimental’ method on people, or putting a girl in the “experimental rack.” The point of view on cruelty shifts in relation to the terms in which the discourse is expressed – what is cruelty from the ethical point of view is not so from the aesthetic – and from the religious point of view, as Kierkegaard writes in the Edifying Discourse, “… the cruelty consists in the fact that the Christian has to live in this world and express in the environment of this world what it is to be a Christian.”

There is, at this point, a two-fold question: the first is, what kind of ‘experimenter’ is Constantin Constantinus, the pseudonymn-author of Repetition? And the second is, what does it mean to write a text under the sign of the ‘experiment”? How is a text, formally, an experiment at all?

The first question returns us to the romantic view of the experiment. The romantic physicist Johann Wilhelm Ritter, as Brain notices in his essay on the Experiment as Fragment, actually classified physics and poetry as similar kinds of fields, and wrote an essay entitled Physics as Art. Kierkegaard’s notion of the aesthetic seems, similarly, to extend to the observation and construction of science as well as poetry. What may seem to be temptation, in the religious sphere, is here a kind of trial and error procedure.

In Repetition, C.C. refers to a story by Justinus Kerner. Kerner, as it happens, wrote the official biography of Mesmer – and it was certainly in Mesmer’s circle that the first ‘psychological experiments’ were carried out. As it happened, many of the ‘subjects’ who became most famous for being easy to induce into trances were women. The Marquis de Puységur left a note about a conversation he had with one of his sonambules, a woman named Genieve. I can’t say that Kierkegaard read these memoirs – I can say that there is an intersigne between Repetition – in which, at one point, C.C. describes himself chasing flies with a fly swatter – and Puységur’s note:

One day I questioned a woman in the magnetic state about the extension of the empire I could exercise upon her. I had without even telling her forced here, as a joke, to give me some blows with a fly swatter that she held in her hand. Well, I said, since you are obliged to hit me, who are only doing you good, I bet that I could, if I absolutely wanted to, make you do anything I wanted; for instanstance, I could make you take off your clothes, for instance, etc… No, monsieur, she said to me, it isn’t the same; what I am doing doesn’t seem good, and I resisted doing it a long time, but in the end it is only a joke so I yielded, since you absolutely wanted it; but as to what you just said, you could never force me to take off my last garments – my shoes, my bonnet, as much as you please, but after that you will obtain nothing.”

The relation that C.C. establishes with the young man is, one could say, designed as an experiment in suggestion; with the woman he is in love with, one could say, C.C. views her as a side effect – the strong homoerotic band is with the young man; and finally there is C.C.’s own experiment of a return to Berlin. Yet one view of the book is that it is itself – in its totality, including its authorship – an experiment performed by Kierkegaard.

Of course, there are other psychological experiments in Kierkegaard’s works – which seem, at certain points, to merge with the idea of seduction. For the next post.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

a psychological experiment

There are, in the notes for Repetition, a number of variations around the subtitle, which Howard and Edna Hong translate as “A venture in Experimenting Psychology”. Kierkegaard also tried “Experimenting Philosophy” and “Experimental-Philosophy”.

This is a suggestive subtitle for a book about – or at least entitled – repetition, since experiment itself is a form of human activity that, ideally, verifies the theories that it is meant to test by creating a situation that can ideally always be repeated by any competent operator. In the dialectical sense in which Constantine Constantius (who may be the experimentor of the book – or may be the subject of the book’s experiment), in a sense the experiment is already repeated even in its very first instance, since it is intended from the beginning to be repeatable – it is designed along the lines of repetition.

But there is another sense in which just the opposite is the case. In Hans Christian Ørsted and the romantic legacy in science, Robert M. Brain points to Ørsted’s distrust, perhaps via Goethe or Schelling, of the Newtonian kind of experimentum cruces on the grounds that what the experiment shows may well very with the angle of observation: “It is inherent in the infinitude of Nature that no observer can discover all that is implied by an experiment.” Brain argues that the Romantic fascination with the fragment served as an image for the experiment – which, instead of presenting itself as a designed repetition, becomes, instead, an insight into some particular in the infinite stream of nature. Schlegel’s aphorism goes:

“A fragment must be like a little artwork taken totally away from the surrounding world and perfect in itself, like a hedgehog.”

From this point of view, the design of an experiment, and its performance, was as singular as a poem or painting, requiring the high ingenuity of a … well, Dr. Frankenstein or Faust, to name the avatars.

Monday, May 24, 2010

la retourne

As I said before I left for visions of the West, I am going to do a couple of weeks of posts about Kierkegaard – or at least broadly about Kierkegaard. I want to deal especially with Repetition and with The Concept of Anxiety. I want to look at these themes in Kierkegaard from the point of view of the critique of the happiness culture, in which alienation and the claims of the imagination can embody ways out of what is becoming dominant as the Great Transformation destroys the ancien regime and the human limit is dissolved – that is, some other justification for collective life, life in society, other than that justified by happiness.

I want to remember that Repetition is written at the same time that Marx is working out the critical, materialist idea of alienation – a name for certain broad tendencies within the capitalist system. I want to put this under the theme of the path of needles and the path of pins, Michelet’s dialectic of the witch – in which backwards is essentially different from, resistant to, forwards – in accordance with my private rule for Gnostic historians, who pick up on intersignes where others see simple coincidence and who understant that the path is no simple thing – neural paths, paths of breadcrumbs, path of needles, path of pins. The radical dissymmetry between backwards and forwards had made me, at least, a prisoner of the crossroads – that moment in non-identity with itself – where magic and positivism are our players. Or our sides. Or our side effects.

Card of retourne.

We are not surprised, then – that at the very beginning of Repetition, the movements pull apart. Or rather, we hide our surprise between the glacial mask of the master fucker, the Sadean libertine, the holder of the card of retourne:

“Say what you will, this problem is going to play an important role in modern philosophy because repetition is a decisive expression for what “recollection” was for the Greeks. Just as they taught that all knowledge is “recollection”, thus will modern philosophy teach that life itself is a repetition. The only modern philosopher who has had the least intimation of this is Leibniz. Repetition and recollection are the same movement, just in opposite directions, because what is recollected has already been and is thus repeated backwards, whereas genuine repetition is recollected forwards. Repetition, if it si possible, thus makes a person happy, while recollection makes him unhappy, assuming of course that he actually gives himself the time to live and does not, immediately upon the hour of his birth hit upon an excuse, such as that he has forgotten something, to sneak back out of life again.”