Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Columbus, Freud and Nietzsche

                     El ├ínimo que piensa en lo que puede temer,
                     empieza a temer en lo que puede pensar.

                                                      Francisco de Quevedo

Freud is very much like Columbus, who uncovered for Europe a putatively “new” world but had little idea what the uncovery was exactly.

The idea that Columbus’ advocacy of a spherical earth was revolutionary is nonsense. A spherical earth, for example, is implicit in both Copernicus and Galileo, whether or not baldly stated, and it is also implicit in Kepler.

Moreover, behind them all is the ancient proposition of the Pythagoreans that the earth must be spherical.

None of this was new.

Columbus, Genoese navigator, innovates only in what he intends to gain by his proposition—namely, the ability to sail around the globe and open up the trade with the Far East that the Venetians had monopolized through their dealings with the Saracens, Turks and Greeks in the Eastern Mediterranean.

In some key sense Columbus is merely a marine Marco Polo.

In practical terms, besides his ability to enlist the Spanish Crown in his project, he had the skills, as did Freud, of a master dead reckoner.

So Freud, who in dreams uncovered a supposed “unconscious” that had indirect access to consciousness through language, uncovered very little new about either dreams or “the unconscious” except insofar as he intended to exploit his new world “scientifically”, partly for his own advancement as a psychiatrist, and partly—so he clearly thought—in the interests both of self-knowledge and of that same “science”.

Freud, then, is the repressed and supposedly scientifically trained man uncovering a “new world” of seeming irrationality that includes his own deeper mind.

Even in modern dress, however, most of what Freud uncovered about what was not taken as “conscious” is already in Nietzsche, though Nietzsche is not particularly interested in the dream state as a primary means of circumnavigating the new mind.

Indeed, in The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche uncovers the irrational element--among the very inventors of logos--in drama, ritual, and religion, all of which are a kind of external unconscious.

It  is enormously interesting that, as Lacan saw, Freud envisaged the object of his study, “the mind”, as a spherical surface—very much like Columbus’ globe.

What Freud uncovered, as Lacan also saw, he misnamed as clumsily as Columbus misnamed his “new” world, using as he did grammatical categories for psychic realities that are not only the substrate of natural language but pre-existent to it.

Moreover, Freud consciously or unconsciously depreciated Nietzsche as his great precursor and as the inventor of the new psychology while using ancient Greek figures like Oedipus to name his supposed elaborations of what he uncovered.

Why he did this is still somewhat of a mystery.

The most plausible explanation is that Freud, overimpressed by the “method” in which he had been trained, could not easily see Nietzsche, philosopher and philologist, and self-described "pyschologist", as his predecessor in anything Freud was prepared to call “scientific”.

Giving Freud all due credit for having, like Columbus, the perseverance to sail into an unknown continent, one also must emphasize that the new world, though Freud himself could not see it, was at once very ancient and also in the modern age the previous uncovery of Nietzsche.

It is in this context that among the French, it is Gilles Deleuze who is the true innovator philosophically in his more conscious reinvestment in Nietzsche both as predecessor to Freud—thus Lacan—and also as the channel to an ancient world that has been there all along logically, epistemologically and philosophically among the ancient Greeks, who exist previous to Hegel and Marx, and who enter the latter part of the Twentieth Century as the de-ideologizing of politics and economics by psychological insight, as perpetrated so brilliantly also by Herbert Marcuse.

Even Deleuze’s Rabelaisianism, which seems very French and modern and thoroughly grotesque (thus”unclassical”) is indirectly also a return, mediated by Nietzsche, to the same Dionysian Greeks.

E. A. Costa 2010- August 2014 Durham, North Carolina