Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Catherine Malabou - What is a Psychic Event? Oct 2010

- Malabou is concerned with the erasure of the frontier between the brain, as physical object, and the psyche
- In order to confront this question we must ask 'what is a psychic event?'
- To answer this question Malabou proposes a new term: cerebrality, in distinction to the brain
- Freud distinguishes between the concept of sex, as used in everyday speech, and sexuality, which refers to a specific form of causality
- Kant describes causality as character (Critique of Pure Reason)
- Sexuality, therefore, is a character which intervenes to regulate a certain series of events
- A psychic event marks a connection between an external event and an internal reaction. Sexuality is the regulating force of this connection. It incorporates the contingency or the accident into the psyche
- Sexuality as a concept which determines the border between inside and outside, the proper and the externality
- Cerebrality is the word for causal value. it encompasses not just conscious life, but also the affective and erotic fabric
- The brain is a site of affects

- Oliver Sacks and other neurologists demonstrate the places of overlap between cerebral and psychic life
- Cerebrality is both cause and character (regime) of events
- Cerebrality has usurped the place of sexuality in neurology. This conflict represents the central disagreement of psychoanalysis and neurology
- Freud wrote that a psychic event has two simultaneous levels. It is both
exogenous AND endogenous
unexpected AND a feature of elaboration and integration by the psyche
in German, Ereignis AND Erlebnis

Sexuality is the encounter between these two levels. They can also be called the level of the incident (nonsensical) and the articulation (sensical)
- Cerebrality functions completely differently
- This is because no interpretation of the cerebral accident, such as brain damage, is possible. There is no Erlebnis event. The accident remains wholly exterior, unassimilable
- Cerebral wounds cut the thread of history in that they reveal the ability of the subject to survive the senselessness of the accident

- They are never accepted by Freud as real: he neutralizes cerebrality
- For Freud, the brain is an 'opague organ'
- In his analysis of the war wounded, it appeared to him that the soldier's real conflict was necessarily a repetition of a previous trauma
- The word trauma comes from the Greek 'to pierce'
- In Freud, the organic lesion never becomes a neurosis. The determining cause can never coincide with the precipitating cause. PTSD is not the same as a neurosis or a psychic disturbance
- In order to constitute psychic events, organic lesions must reactivate previous lived trauma. Neurosis is a 'peacetime conflict' between the ego and the sex drives
- In the end, sexuality will always win over trauma without hermeneutics. There is nothing beyond the causality of the pleasure principle

- Freud believed that brain damaged patients should not be psychoanalyzed lest they become 'common neurotics'
- Could it be that Freud failed to think the accident in addition to the event?
- Cerebrality deals with contingency differently than does sexuality. It allows for the possibility of unprecedented contingent disaster
- We must think the traumatic event that is neutral to fantasy and reason
- Examples of these events include Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, epilepsy, and ADD
- Every wound, as causal, has the power to change personality, but the sense of this change is fundamentally different between psychoanalytic and neurological methods. Where psychoanalysis sees a change in the ego, neurology sees an unprecedented metamorphosis, giving rise to an entirely new person
- The catastrophe defines the event as it defines itself on a psychic level
- The catastrophe radically divides between before and after, in a manner never allowed by Freud

Plasticity consists of three meanings:
1. The possibility of a thing to receive form
2. The possibility to give form to a thing
3. The possibility of the explosion of every form

- Plasticity is situatuted at both extremes of creation and destruction
- The psychic event is plastic on identity, and identity is itself plastic, but not in the first, positive, or 'sculptural' sense of the term, as is often shown in Sacks, with, for example, the patient who is struck by lightning and becomes an accomplished concert pianist
- In fact, the psychic event is only understandable in the third sense, as the destruction of forms
- Destruction might constitute a form of psychic life against Freud

- Freud's view on plasticity is described in his work Thoughts for the Times on War and Death
- He wrote that in psychic life, succession = coexistence
- Therefore that which is plastic is indestructible. Any earlier development can return again
- Can we be so certain that mental illness is always a return?

- The 'new wounded' are not merely those with brain lesions. The 'new wounded' refers to all of those in shock who have experienced neural reorganization due to trauma which is war-related, sexual, or due to another kind of violence
- Perhaps all damage by extreme relational violence such as this is 'socio-political'

- Every event occurs because of an 'indivisible intimacy between the inside and the outside'

- Traumatic events present themselves today as non-intentional: this is an ideological effect. Intention is disguised as natural and contingent causality
- Political oppression today assumes the guise of a traumatic blow which cancels out its political aspect
- This disguising coincides with the global uniformization of neurology and the collapse of the brain and the psyche

Q&A Fragments:

- One consequence of traumatic shock is indifference, odd unconcern, and coldness
- This total suspension of affect, which can be seen in war-torn countries or displaced populations, is similar to PTSD
- In its extreme degree, it is similar to the psychic state of serial killers and extreme psychotics
- The reactions to natural and political traumas are the same
- In cerebral trauma, two different psychic forms emerge
- There is, therefore, always the virtual reality of becoming other to oneself. Whenever I behave indifferently to the other it is a manifestation of who I might become
- Brain damage reveals something that might happen at any time to anyone (Marguerite Duras refers to the contingency of her face...)
- Therefore it is unfair to look at the brain itself as a locus of causality
- Sacks sees plasticity as the making of a beautiful form with a happy ending
- Antonio Damasio: There can be no reasoning without decision, which requires affective evaluation. There is no decision 'in cold blood'
- the traumatic event is both a shock and a promise
- Malabou's event would have no promise - it would be a positive answer to the question 'is there anything beyond the pleasure principle?'

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