The​ ​Neurotic​ ​Turn: Inter-Disciplinary Correspondences on Neurosis

Neurotic turn

Recently Charlie Johns edited an extremely interesting book that works through the argument that neurosis is the dominant condition of our society today. An array of thinkers, as Graham Harman, Benjamin Noys, Patricia Reed, Dany Nobus, John Russon, Charles Johns and Katerina Kolozova, have addressed the following question: How can the concept of ‘Neurosis’ help us understand the new digitized world in which we live and our place in it?

An ​interview​ ​with Charlie Johns and​ ​Anna​ ​Zhurba​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Moscow Museum​ ​of​ ​Modern​ ​Art​ ​(MMOMA).

A.Z.: What​ ​is​ ​the​ ​relationship​ ​between​ ​technological​ ​progress​ ​and​ ​neurosis?

C.J.: The​ ​phrase​ ​‘technological​ ​progress’​ ​is​ ​already​ ​a​ ​dubious​ ​one;​ ​is​ ​progress​ ​determined culturally​ ​qua​ ​differences,​ ​and​ ​what​ ​are​ ​the​ ​criteria​ ​for​ ​progress​ ​to​ ​be​ ​achieved​ ​(standard​ ​of living​ ​etc.)?​ ​If​ ​we​ ​made​ ​an​ ​analogy​ ​between​ ​progress​ ​and​ ​proliferation​ ​we​ ​could,​ ​however, suggest​ ​that​ ​neurosis​ ​is​ ​progress.​ ​Why?​ ​Neurosis​ ​is​ ​essentially​ ​the​ ​hyper-sensitivity towards​ ​-​ ​and​ ​determination​ ​of​ ​-​ ​concepts.​ ​Whether​ ​we​ ​describe​ ​concepts​ ​as​ ​a​ ​type​ ​of clothing​ ​draped​ ​over​ ​the​ ​‘unknown’​ ​world,​ ​or​ ​whether​ ​we​ ​describe​ ​concepts​ ​as​ ​autopoietic agencies​ ​in​ ​their​ ​own​ ​right,​ ​it​ ​still​ ​amounts​ ​to​ ​the​ ​same​ ​thing​ ​on​ ​a​ ​phenomenological​ ​level; we​ ​interact,​ ​assign​ ​and​ ​orient​ ​our​ ​lives​ ​via​ ​concepts​ ​(or​ ​-​ ​if​ ​you​ ​will​ ​-​ ​conceptual​ ​sign systems/semiotics).​ ​Second​ ​nature​ ​is​ ​superimposed​ ​onto​ ​a​ ​putative​ ​first​ ​nature​ ​and​ ​it​ ​is inevitable​ ​that​ ​further​ ​concepts​ ​will​ ​be​ ​produced​ ​and​ ​ensue.​ ​In​ ​this​ ​sense​ ​we​ ​are​ ​living​ ​in​ ​a highly​ ​proliferated​ ​conceptual​ ​world,​ ​where​ ​many​ ​concepts​ ​do​ ​not​ ​even​ ​refer​ ​to​ ​an​ ​object, representation,​ ​or​ ​what​ ​some​ ​philosophers​ ​have​ ​called​ ​‘the​ ​real’.​ ​Neurosis​ ​is​ ​the exaggeration​ ​of​ ​such​ ​a​ ​viewpoint​ ​(which​ ​can​ ​be​ ​found​ ​in​ ​various​ ​thinkers​ ​such​ ​as​ ​Hegel, Deleuze​ ​and​ ​especially​ ​Baudrillard).

It​ ​would​ ​actually​ ​be​ ​more​ ​cogent​ ​to​ ​think​ ​of​ ​concepts​ as a type of technology,​ ​after​ ​all,​ ​every form​ ​of​ ​naming​ ​and​ ​crafting​ ​is​ ​also​ ​a​ ​conceptual​ ​form​ ​(it​ ​is​ ​a​ ​conceptual​ ​signature​ ​onto putative​ ​external/material​ ​reality).​ ​The​ ​world​ ​of​ ​objects​ ​and​ ​their​ ​uses​ ​is​ ​also​ ​a​ ​world​ ​of conceptual​ ​functions​ ​(remember​ ​that​ ​we​ ​put​ ​those​ ​uses​ ​there​ ​in​ ​the​ ​first​ ​place),​ ​a​ ​conceptual cartography​ ​which​ ​helps​ ​us​ ​navigate​ ​as​ ​humans.​ ​Following​ ​Heidegger,​ ​and​ ​later Wittgenstein,​ ​we​ ​become​ ​aware​ ​that​ ​we​ ​are​ ​always​ ​already​ ​within​ ​this​ ​conceptual technology;​ ​taking​ ​up​ ​speech​ ​and​ ​language​ ​for​ ​instance,​ ​using​ ​pre-existing​ ​equipment​ ​to enable​ ​mastery​ ​over​ ​ourselves​ ​and​ ​our​ ​world.​ ​What​ ​comes​ ​to​ ​the​ ​fore​ ​in​ ​my​ ​concept​ ​of neurosis​ ​is​ ​that​ ​such​ ​‘embeddedness’​ ​in​ ​the​ ​world​ ​could​ ​also​ ​be​ ​limiting​ ​and​ ​ignorant; Wittgenstein​ ​famously​ ​stated​ ​that​ ​“when​ ​I​ ​obey​ ​a​ ​rule,​ ​I​ ​do​ ​not​ ​choose,​ ​I​ ​obey​ ​the​ ​rule blindly”​ ​(Wittgenstein,​ ​Philosophical​ ​Investigations).​ ​Neurosis​ ​is​ ​the​ ​pessimistic​ ​counterpart to​ ​the​ ​Hegelian​ ​notion​ ​that​ ​a​ ​culture​ ​can​ ​be​ ​swept​ ​along​ ​by​ ​a​ ​certain​ ​conceptual​ ​paradigm, or​ ​the​ ​Humean​ ​notion​ ​that​ ​we​ ​gain​ ​knowledge​ ​through​ ​experience​ ​qualified​ ​through​ ​custom and​ ​habit​ ​(i.e​ ​compulsive​ ​repetition).

Regardless​ ​of​ ​the​ ​philosophical​ ​assertion​ ​that​ ​concept​ ​and​ ​craft​ ​cannot​ ​be​ ​reduced​ ​to​ ​either one​ ​domain,​ ​we​ ​can​ ​say​ ​in​ ​an​ ​everyday​ ​sense​ ​that​ ​technology​ ​(as​ ​we​ ​know​ ​it)​ ​aids​ ​this neurosis​ ​because​ ​it​ ​constantly​ ​generates​ ​and​ ​re-inserts​ ​concepts/symbols​ ​back​ ​into​ ​the​ ​lived social​ ​experiential​ ​domain,​ ​creating​ ​a​ ​high​ ​intensity​ ​of​ ​concepts​ ​and​ ​a​ ​type​ ​of​ ​redoubling​ ​of the​ ​concept​ ​onto​ ​the​ ​human​ ​(think​ ​advertisements)​ ​that​ ​are​ ​akin​ ​to​ ​traumatising​ ​the​ ​subject (technologies​ ​modes​ ​of​ ​distraction,​ ​seduction​ ​and​ ​capture).

Neurosis​ ​is​ ​a​ ​philosophy​ ​‘beyond​ ​good​ ​and​ ​evil’​ ​in​ ​the​ ​sense​ ​that​ ​it​ ​is​ ​interested​ ​in​ ​the intensity,​ ​exaggeration,​ ​proliferation​ ​and​ ​dissemination​ ​of​ ​concepts​ ​without​ ​recourse​ ​to judging​ ​them​ ​as​ ​‘good’​ ​or​ ​‘bad’​ ​(this​ ​is​ ​not​ ​to​ ​say​ ​that​ ​semantics​ ​is​ ​absent​ ​in​ ​the​ ​concept).

Neurosis​ ​does​ ​not​ ​necessarily​ ​mean​ ​‘bad’,​ ​it​ ​is​ ​used​ ​partly​ ​to​ ​bring​ ​to​ ​light​ ​how​ ​we​ ​are affected by​ ​concepts,​ ​as​ ​Marcuse​ ​and​ ​Fromm​ ​knew,​ ​‘bad’​ ​and​ ​‘good’​ ​are​ ​only​ ​relative​ ​to​ ​the ideologies​ ​of​ ​a​ ​society.​ ​Using​ ​the​ ​Freudian​ ​dynamic​ ​of​ ​the​ ​pleasure​ ​principle​ ​may​ ​be​ ​an interesting​ ​exercise​ ​however.​ ​Neurosis​ ​is​ ​against​ ​any​ ​humanist​ ​notion​ ​of​ ​a​ ​‘way​ ​out’​ ​of​ ​the impasse​ ​of​ ​determinism,​ ​it​ ​in-fact​ ​believes​ ​that​ ​constructs​ ​such​ ​as​ ​‘genius’​ ​and​ ​‘freedom’ should​ ​be​ ​reconceptualised​ ​as​ ​compulsive​ ​repetitious​ ​acts​ ​of​ ​concept​ ​production​ ​as opposed​ ​to​ ​any​ ​moral,​ ​supernatural​ ​or​ ​metaphysical​ ​definition.

I​ ​am​ ​giving​ ​you​ ​a​ ​philosophical​ ​answer​ ​to​ ​your​ ​question,​ ​however,​ ​one​ ​can​ ​easily​ ​see​ ​a relatively​ ​straightforward​ ​link​ ​between​ ​technological​ ​‘progress’​ ​and​ ​neurosis,​ ​such​ ​a​ ​link being​ historical. That​ ​link​ ​would​ ​be​ ​the​ ​instantiation​ ​of​ ​the​ ​concept​ ​of​ ​neurosis​ ​by​ ​William Cullen​ ​in​ ​the​ ​mid-eighteenth​ ​century​ ​and​ ​the​ ​Industrial​ ​Revolution​ ​arising​ ​at​ ​the​ ​same​ ​time. Both​ ​events​ ​are​ ​in​ ​many​ ​ways​ ​interchangeable;​ ​the​ ​neurotic​ ​desire​ ​for​ ​totalization​ ​and positivism​ ​found​ ​in​ ​the​ ​spirit​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Industrial​ ​Revolution,​ ​and​ ​the​ ​sudden​ ​affair​ ​of​ ​the​ ​human sensorium​ ​with​ ​the​ ​exotic​ ​and​ ​intense​ ​rates​ ​of​ ​speed,​ ​power,​ ​seduction,​ ​and​ ​claustrophobia of​ ​technology​ ​that​ ​made​ ​us​ ​in​ ​turn​ ​slow,​ ​weak,​ ​naive​ ​and​ ​powerless,​ ​such​ ​effects condensing​ ​as​ ​forms​ ​of​ ​neuroses​ ​(foreign​ ​thoughts​ ​and​ ​general​ ​anxiety).

In​ ​many​ ​ways​ ​the​ ​Industrial​ ​Revolution​ ​has​ ​simply​ ​proliferated​ ​in​ ​our​ ​present​ ​epoch​ ​(one​ ​can call​ ​it​ ​Advanced​ ​Capitalism​ ​or​ ​Late​ ​Capitalism​ ​or​ ​Globalization​ ​etc).​ ​When​ ​Psychoanalysis came​ ​onto​ ​the​ ​scene​ ​with​ ​Freud​ ​and​ ​Jung,​ ​a​ ​similar​ ​event​ ​had​ ​happened,​ ​a​ ​kind​ ​of​ ​impasse where​ ​the​ ​individual​ ​was​ ​reasserted​ ​within​ ​the​ ​domain​ ​of​ ​technological​ ​determinism.​ ​It​ ​was in​ ​a​ ​sense​ ​necessary​ ​that​ ​repressed​ ​powers​ ​of​ ​sexuality,​ ​violence​ ​and​ ​taboo​ ​were​ ​to​ ​be disclosed​ ​by​ ​psychoanalysis,​ ​as​ ​such​ ​powers​ ​were​ ​in​ ​contradistinction​ ​to​ ​technology​ ​(i.e technology​ ​was​ ​not​ ​thought​ ​of​ ​as​ ​sexual​ ​or​ ​rebellious,​ ​these​ ​were​ ​traits​ ​affirmed​ ​by​ ​man​ ​in human​ ​nature).​ ​The​ ​relation​ ​of​ ​psychology​ ​and​ ​technology​ ​that​ ​I​ ​am​ ​personally​ ​interested​ ​in is​ ​not​ ​a​ ​contra-distinctive​ ​one​ ​however​ ​(a​ ​relation​ ​made​ ​by​ ​differences)​ ​but​ ​rather​ ​one​ ​of interconnectedness;​ ​the​ ​technological​ ​presentation​ ​of​ ​the​ ​subconscious​ ​into​ ​the​ ​realm​ ​of photography,​ ​film​ ​and​ ​animation,​ ​and​ ​vice​ ​versa,​ ​the​ ​arrival​ ​of​ ​such​ ​visual​ ​technology​ ​into the​ ​human​ ​mind,​ ​man’s​ ​thoughts​ ​and​ ​his​ ​dreams.​ ​For​ ​me​ ​Walter​ ​Benjamin​ ​becomes​ ​a​ ​great guide​ ​for​ ​this​ ​phenomenon.​ ​Using​ ​his​ ​theory​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Optical​ ​Unconscious​ ​we​ ​simultaneously become​ ​aware​ ​of​ ​the​ ​‘repressed’​ ​phenomena​ ​in​ ​visual​ ​culture​ ​(​ ​disclosing​ ​the​ ​twenty​ ​four frames​ ​that​ ​make​ ​up​ ​a​ ​filmic​ ​second,​ ​the​ ​zoom​ ​of​ ​the​ ​camera​ ​lense​ ​penetrating​ ​into​ ​a​ ​new world​ ​of​ ​images​ ​etc)​ ​and​ ​also​ ​the​ ​power​ ​of​ ​the​ ​image​ ​itself.​ ​All​ ​one​ ​needs​ ​is​ ​a​ ​representation and​ ​that​ ​is​ ​enough​ ​to​ ​get​ ​the​ ​neurosis​ ​started.​ ​The​ ​representation​ ​in-fact​ ​takes​ ​on​ ​a​ ​new meaning​ ​distinct​ ​from​ ​the​ ​object​ ​or​ ​referent​ ​and​ ​harnesses​ ​its​ ​own​ ​phenomenological powers​ ​(look​ ​at​ ​the​ ​subliminal​ ​power​ ​of​ ​the​ ​image,​ ​it’s​ ​ability​ ​to​ ​become​ ​recognized​ ​in collective​ ​consciousness​ ​such​ ​as​ ​certain​ ​brands​ ​and​ ​icons).​ ​This​ ​is​ ​partly​ ​why​ ​Jean Baudrillard​ ​characterised​ ​the​ ​image​ ​as​ ​“fundamentally​ ​immoral”​ ​(Baudrillard​ ​Live,​ ​Selected Interviews,​ ​Gane,​ ​Routledge,​ ​1993). As​ ​I​ ​have​ ​stated​ ​in​ ​my​ ​introduction​ ​to​ The Neurotic Turn (Repeater​ ​Books,​ ​2017),​ ​this relation​ ​between​ ​contemporary​ ​human​ ​consciousness​ ​(neurosis)​ ​and​ ​technology​ ​can​ ​be sentimentalised​ ​in​ ​different​ ​ways.​ ​There​ ​is​ ​a​ ​kind​ ​of​ Frankenstein effect whereby​ ​the technology​ ​that​ ​was​ ​implemented​ ​and​ ​integrated​ ​by​ ​society​ ​for​ ​utilitarian​ ​purposes​ ​has reached​ ​the​ ​point​ ​where​ ​it​ ​has​ ​transgressed​ ​such​ ​moral​ ​and​ ​economic​ ​goals​ ​and​ ​is​ ​now​ ​the source​ ​of​ ​our​ ​ills​ ​(we​ ​watch​ ​technology​ ​turn​ ​its​ ​head​ ​away​ ​in​ ​neglect​ ​of​ ​us,​ ​like​ ​how​ ​Dr Frankenstein​ ​does​ ​with​ ​his​ ​monster).​ ​Or,​ ​we​ ​can​ ​be​ ​less​ ​romantic​ ​and​ ​argue​ ​that​ ​there should​ ​be​ ​no​ ​lament​ ​of​ The Real,​ ​or​ ​of​ ​the​ ​‘peasant’​ ​life,​ ​and​ ​instead​ ​insist​ ​that​ ​conceptual formation​ ​would​ ​have​ ​become​ ​highly​ ​simulated​ ​in​ ​its​ ​own​ ​right​ ​anyway,​ ​or​ ​that​ ​a​ ​legitimate contemporary​ ​ontology​ ​would​ ​have​ ​to​ ​do​ ​away​ ​with​ The Real ​(in​ ​any​ ​objective​ ​sense)​ ​and understand​ ​processes​ ​of​ ​neurosis,​ ​extrapolation​ ​and​ ​simulation​ ​as​ ​part​ ​of​ ​nature​ ​‘in-itself’.

A.Z.: Do​ ​you​ ​see​ ​any​ ​productive/​ ​positive​ ​outcome​ ​in​ ​liberating​ ​neurosis​ ​from​ ​its​ ​repressed status?

C.J.: Yes​ ​I​ ​do​ ​very​ ​much.​ ​Similar​ ​to​ ​the​ ​Enlightenment​ ​spirit,​ ​I​ ​believe​ ​we​ ​as​ ​humans​ ​can​ ​be​ ​a​ ​bit more​ ​sensitive,​ ​aware​ ​and​ ​cautious​ ​of​ ​the​ ​prejudice​ ​and​ ​bias​ ​we​ ​act​ ​out​ ​on​ ​a​ ​minute​ ​to minute​ ​basis.​ ​By​ ​learning​ ​to​ ​heuristically​ ​separate​ ​ourselves​ ​from​ ​the​ ​concepts​ ​we​ ​inhabit and​ ​produce,​ ​we​ ​can​ ​take​ ​an​ ​analytical​ ​approach​ ​which​ ​is​ ​both​ ​enlightened,​ ​post-human​ ​and traditionally​ ​psychological;​ ​1)​ ​we​ ​can​ ​analyse​ ​the​ ​criteria​ ​or​ ​strength​ ​of​ ​the​ ​concepts​ ​at​ ​our disposal​ ​and​ ​can​ ​question​ ​which​ ​concepts​ ​may​ ​be​ ​beneficial​ ​and​ ​non-beneficial​ ​to​ ​our objectives​ ​and​ ​our​ ​behaviour.​ ​2)​ ​we​ ​can​ ​move​ ​beyond​ ​the​ ​embodied,​ ​impassioned​ ​view​ ​of concept​ ​formation​ ​as​ ​inextricably​ ​linked​ ​to​ ​human​ ​subjectivity​ ​and​ ​our​ ​drives​ ​(seen​ ​in​ ​Hume and​ ​areas​ ​of​ ​Nietzsche).​ ​3)​ ​we​ ​can​ ​ask​ why a​ ​person​ ​is​ ​articulating​ ​certain​ ​concepts​ ​in certain​ ​ways​ ​in​ ​order​ ​to​ ​define​ ​the​ ​problem​ ​in​ ​concept​ ​production,​ ​transmission​ ​and reception,​ ​as​ ​opposed​ ​to​ ​defining​ ​the​ ​problem​ ​in​ ​an​ individual​(this​ ​notion​ ​is​ ​sympathetic​ ​to various​ ​‘criminals’​ ​outlawed​ ​and​ ​the​ ​sidelining​ ​of​ ​the​ ​mentally​ ​ill​ ​in​ ​society).​ ​The​ ​concepts​ ​at our​ ​disposal​ ​are​ ​precisely​ ​that;​ ​ours,​ ​and​ ​we​ ​must​ ​learn​ ​where​ ​they​ ​come​ ​from​ ​and​ ​under what​ ​circumstance​ ​they​ ​can​ ​prove​ ​to​ ​have​ ​purchase.​ ​Although​ ​this​ ​may​ ​sound​ ​inhuman​ ​and rationalistic,​ ​the​ ​alternative​ ​would​ ​be​ ​technological​ ​nihilism​ ​or​ ​solipsistic​ ​Nietzscheanism, you​ ​choose.​ ​In​ ​many​ ​ways​ ​I​ ​am​ ​still​ ​following​ ​that​ ​tradition​ ​of​ ​psychology​ ​and​ ​socio-cultural criticism​ ​found​ ​in​ ​Marcuse​ ​and​ ​Fromm;​ ​we​ ​need​ ​to​ ​liberate/​ ​disclose​ ​what​ ​is​ ​left​ ​repressed by​ ​ourselves​ ​and​ ​our​ ​institutions,​ ​in​ ​order​ ​to​ ​guarantee​ ​a​ ​less​ ​one-dimensional​ ​man​ ​and culture.​ ​Saying​ ​this,​ ​however,​ ​I​ ​do​ ​not​ ​believe​ ​that​ ​neurosis​ ​truly​ ​can​ ​be​ ​liberated; psychoanalysis​ ​does​ ​not​ ​assume​ ​a​ ​perfect​ ​end​ ​state​ ​(in​ ​fact​ ​it​ ​denies​ ​the​ ​very​ ​possibility​ ​and is​ ​thoroughly​ ​pessimistic​ ​in​ ​this​ ​respect).​ ​Psychoanalysis,​ ​I​ ​believe,​ ​is​ ​more​ ​about​ ​process and​ ​transformation.​ ​All​ ​we​ ​can​ ​hope​ ​to​ ​do​ ​is​ ​transform​ ​ourselves​ ​in​ ​relation​ ​to​ ​the​ ​world​ ​we are​ ​implicated​ ​in.​ ​The​ ​worst​ ​situation​ ​would​ ​be​ ​a​ ​stalemate.​ ​That​ ​for​ ​me​ ​is​ ​the​ ​true​ ​meaning of​ ​nihilism.

A.Z.: How​ ​do​ ​public/collective​ ​and​ ​private/subjective​ ​realms​ ​relate​ ​to​ ​each​ ​other​ ​in​ ​your reading​ ​of​ ​the​ ​idea​ ​of​ ​the​ ​neurotic?

C.J.: There​ ​is​ ​no​ ​distinction​ ​in​ ​my​ ​view.​ ​As​ ​I​ ​have​ ​stated​ ​above,​ ​the​ ​intersubjectivity​ ​of​ ​man​ ​and technology​ ​has​ ​always​ ​been​ ​there,​ ​in​ ​concepts,​ ​in​ ​language,​ ​in​ ​craft,​ ​in​ ​techne,​ ​in​ ​society etc.​ ​The​ ​main​ ​difference​ ​now​ ​is​ ​how​ ​we​ ​view​ ​this​ ​intersubjectivity;​ ​at​ ​first​ ​we​ ​acknowledged the​ ​union​ ​but​ ​believed​ ​that​ ​it​ ​was​ ​primarily​ ​for​ ​man’s​ ​benefit.​ ​We​ ​used​ ​philosophical​ ​notions such​ ​as​ ​freedom,​ ​final​ ​cause,​ ​virtue​ ​and​ ​teleology​ ​to​ ​qualify​ ​the​ ​position​ ​that​ ​it​ ​was​ ​the​ ​realm of​ ​man​ ​who​ ​had​ ​goals​ ​and​ ​purpose,​ ​technology​ ​being​ ​simply​ ​a​ ​means​ ​to​ ​an​ ​end.​ ​With​ ​the advent​ ​of​ ​various​ ​doctrines​ ​such​ ​as​ ​Marxism​ ​this​ ​sentiment​ ​had​ ​changed​ ​and​ ​there​ ​is​ ​a much​ ​more​ ​negative​ ​(albeit​ ​only​ ​at​ ​first)​ ​view​ ​of​ ​technology​ ​as​ ​deterministic​ ​and all-pervasive.​ ​The​ ​reason​ ​I​ ​bring​ ​this​ ​up​ ​is​ ​because​ ​I​ ​think​ ​technology​ ​allows​ ​us​ ​to​ ​think about​ ​the​ ​private/public​ ​dichotomy​ ​with​ ​more​ ​clarity.​ ​Language​ ​is​ ​always​ ​already​ ​a technology​ ​where​ ​one​ ​is​ ​implicated​ ​within​ ​but​ ​never​ ​fully​ ​owns.​ ​Perception,​ ​likewise,​ ​is always​ ​produced​ ​socially,​ ​and​ ​such​ ​an​ ​‘order​ ​of​ ​things’​ ​is​ ​not​ ​found​ ​explicitly​ ​within​ ​one’s own​ ​perception.​ ​The​ ​argument​ ​for​ ​this​ ​interconnectedness​ ​has​ ​been​ ​described​ ​since​ ​the dawn​ ​of​ ​Western​ ​philosophy​ ​(but​ ​much​ ​development​ ​has​ ​been​ ​made​ ​in​ ​the​ ​Continental tradition​ ​of​ ​philosophy).​ ​I​ ​am​ ​probably​ ​the​ ​most​ ​pessimistic​ ​philosopher​ ​of​ ​this​ ​‘deterministic’ interconnected​ ​tradition​ ​(following​ ​Baudrillard​ ​in​ ​many​ ​respects).​ ​Neurosis​ ​attempts​ ​to characterise​ ​the​ ​contamination​ ​(Derrida)​ ​and​ ​bricolage​ ​(Levi​ ​Strauss)​ ​of​ ​meaning​ ​within contemporary​ ​consciousness​ ​and​ ​hence​ ​the​ ​conflation​ ​of​ ​the​ ​two​ ​poles​ ​private​ ​and​ ​public. Someone​ ​is​ ​always​ ​plugged​ ​into​ ​someone​ ​else,​ ​speaking​ ​as,​ ​for​ ​or​ ​through​ ​someone​ ​else (this​ ​is​ ​the​ ​entire​ ​goal​ ​of​ ​capitalism;​ ​retail​ ​service,​ ​customer​ ​service,​ ​etc.).​ ​On​ ​the​ ​other​ ​side, the​ ​‘private’​ ​domain​ ​has​ ​never​ ​been​ ​exteriorised​ ​more​ ​than​ ​in​ ​the​ ​21st​ ​century;​ ​with​ ​the advent​ ​of​ ​facebook,​ ​instagram,​ ​twitter​ ​etc​ ​personal​ ​life​ ​is​ ​public​ ​life​ ​and​ ​all​ ​positive​ ​meaning between​ ​the​ ​chafing​ ​of​ ​the​ ​two​ ​has​ ​disappeared.​ ​What​ ​I​ ​am​ ​more​ ​interested​ ​in​ ​nowadays​ ​is not​ ​the​ ​private/public​ ​dichotomy​ ​but​ ​the​ ​secret/non-secret​ ​dichotomy.​ ​The​ ​true​ ​secret, always​ ​there​ ​in​ ​psychoanalysis,​ ​always​ ​there​ ​in​ ​the​ ​mad​ ​and​ ​the​ ​criminally​ ​insane,​ ​the concept​ ​that​ ​one​ ​man​ ​may​ ​be​ ​hiding,​ ​is​ ​keeping,​ ​like​ ​a​ ​form​ ​of​ ​property​ ​etc.​ ​I​ ​do​ ​not​ ​wish​ ​to know​ ​these​ ​secrets,​ ​and​ ​perhaps​ ​this​ ​is​ ​the​ ​last​ ​fruitful​ ​life​ ​of​ ​the​ ​romantic​ ​concept​ ​of authenticity​ ​or​ ​identity​ ​within​ ​human​ ​civilization.

A.Z.: What​ ​are​ ​the​ ​main​ ​historical​ ​shifts​ ​in​ ​the​ ​popular​ ​perception​ ​of​ ​the​ ​neurotic?

C.J.: I​ ​would​ ​not​ ​claim​ ​to​ ​be​ ​an​ ​expert​ ​at​ ​answering​ ​this​ ​question,​ ​but​ ​I​ ​believe​ ​the​ ​shift​ ​is enormous​ ​in​ ​many​ ​ways.​ ​If​ ​we​ ​even​ ​attempt​ ​to​ ​anchor​ ​it​ ​to​ ​its​ ​psychological​ ​home​ ​we​ ​will find​ ​it​ ​challenging.​ ​Neurosis​ ​is​ ​disclosed​ ​in​ ​1769​ ​by​ ​Dr.​ ​William​ ​Cullen.​ ​Not​ ​to​ ​take​ ​it​ ​away from​ ​Dr​. ​Cullen​ ​but​ ​we​ ​can​ ​gauge​ ​philosophically​ ​why​ ​this​ ​had​ ​to​ ​be​ ​the​ ​case;​ ​psychology had​ ​‘developed’​ ​to​ ​a​ ​point​ ​in​ ​the​ ​eighteenth​ ​century​ ​where​ ​‘symptoms’​ ​were​ ​assumed​ ​to come​ ​from​ ​exclusively​ ​material,​ ​biological​ ​and​ ​organic​ ​processes.​ ​Many​ ​mental​ ​disturbances (such​ ​as​ ​neurosis​ ​and​ ​psychosis)​ ​could​ ​not​ ​be​ ​discerned​ ​by​ ​this​ ​method​ ​(physiologically​ ​or causally).​ ​At​ ​the​ ​time,​ ​scientific​ ​legitimacy​ ​depended​ ​on​ ​its​ ​allegiance​ ​to​ ​the​ ​material​ ​world hypothesis​ ​(against​ ​superstition​ ​etc).​ ​However,​ ​in​ ​the​ ​mid​ ​1700’s​ ​the​ ​enlightenment​ ​ideal​ ​of the​ ​individual​ ​was​ ​taking​ ​place​ ​(one​ ​can​ ​see​ ​Immanuel​ ​Kant’s​ ​debt​ ​to​ ​the​ ​father​ ​of​ ​Early Modern​ ​Philosophy​ ​Rene​ ​Descartes)​ ​and​ ​this​ ​was​ ​against​ ​the​ ​scientific​ ​realism​ ​supporting certain​ ​psychological​ ​discourses​ ​at​ ​the​ ​time.​ ​Hence​ ​‘neurosis’​ ​was​ ​adopted​ ​by​ ​this​ ​new mind-set​ ​and​ ​disclosed​ ​as​ ​both​ ​mental​ ​and​ ​subjective​ ​(it​ ​was​ ​later​ ​adopted​ ​in​ ​the​ ​same non-scientific​ ​way​ ​by​ ​Romanticism​ ​and​ ​given​ ​a​ ​kind​ ​of​ ​‘tension’/​ ​cathexis​ ​(the​ ​moving elements,​ ​the​ ​relation​ ​between​ ​man​ ​and​ ​nature)​ ​as​ ​well​ ​as​ ​a​ ​solitary​ ​denotation).​ ​Before then,​ ​in​ ​the​ ​writings​ ​of​ ​Christian​ ​Wolffe,​ ​and​ ​even​ ​in​ ​the​ ​pre-Socratics,​ ​neurosis​ ​was characterised​ ​as​ ​either​ ​‘mind’​ ​or​ ​‘soul’​ ​(soul​ ​pertaining​ ​to​ ​the​ ​whole​ ​world,​ ​the​ ​‘world-soul’). Although​ ​I​ ​find​ ​these​ ​earlier​ ​characterisations​ ​illuminating,​ ​I​ ​find​ ​that​ ​Cullen​ ​picked​ ​up​ ​upon the​ discomforting ​quality​ ​of​ ​the​ ​psyche,​ ​and​ ​this​ ​is​ ​of​ ​main​ ​interest​ ​to​ ​me.​ ​So​ ​already​ ​there you​ ​have​ ​a​ ​large​ ​shift​ ​of​ ​the​ ​term​ ​psyche;​ ​from​ ​soul,​ ​spirit,​ ​nature,​ ​to​ ​simply​ ​‘the​ ​mental’,​ ​and later,​ ​with​ ​Cullen,​ ​the​ ​term​ ​neurosis​ ​is​ ​a​ ​kind​ ​of​ ​instantiation;​ ​the​ ​moment​ ​when​ ​mind​ ​and spirit​ ​is​ ​reflected​ ​in​ ​an​ ​eighteenth​ ​century​ ​mind​ ​now​ ​bridled​ ​with​ ​ideas​ ​and​ ​passing​ ​into​ ​a new​ ​phase​ ​of​ ​alienation.​ ​In​ ​many​ ​ways​ ​I​ ​see​ ​Cullen’s​ ​instantiation​ ​of​ ​neurosis​ ​as​ ​the condensation​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Gothic​ ​quality​ ​of​ ​mind;​ ​the​ ​ghosts​ ​in​ ​the​ ​machine,​ ​the​ ​nightmare​ ​images of​ ​irrationality​ ​(think​ ​of​ ​Goya’s​ The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters).

In​ ​popular​ ​culture,​ ​however,​ ​neurosis​ ​seems​ ​to​ ​have​ ​been​ ​embraced​ ​(Patricia​ ​Friedrich​ ​talks about​ ​those​ ​characters​ ​we​ ​love,​ ​such​ ​as​ ​those​ ​played​ ​by​ ​Woody​ ​Allen​ ​and​ ​the​ ​character​ ​of Patrick​ ​Bateman​ ​in​ ​American​ ​Psycho​ ​etc.,​ ​in​ ​the​ ​ ​ ​book​ The Neurotic Turn, Repeater​ ​Books).​ ​In​ ​literature​ ​too​ ​we​ ​have​ ​a​ ​line​ ​of​ ​thinkers​ ​from​ ​Dostoevsky,​ ​Bataille​ ​and Barthes,​ ​and​ ​later​ ​we​ ​could​ ​say​ ​that​ ​almost​ ​everyone​ ​in​ ​the​ ​21st​ ​century​ ​has​ ​an​ ​element​ ​of what​ ​Freud​ ​had​ ​called​ ​‘narcissistic​ ​personality​ ​disorder.​ ​’​ ​As​ ​I​ ​said,​ ​I​ ​am​ ​not​ ​an​ ​expert​ ​in​ ​the social​ ​representation​ ​of​ ​the​ ​neurotic,​ ​but​ ​it​ ​is​ ​obvious​ ​-​ ​at​ ​least​ ​on​ ​a​ ​surface​ ​level​ ​-​ ​that​ ​the neurotic​ ​has​ ​been​ ​one​ ​of​ ​the​ ​most​ ​accepted​ ​‘outsider’​ ​figures​ ​in​ ​the​ ​twentieth​ ​and twenty-first​ ​century.​ ​Research​ ​has​ ​to​ ​be​ ​done​ ​into​ ​exactly​ ​why​ ​this​ ​is.​ ​I​ ​believe​ ​that​ ​it​ ​is because​ ​the​ ​traditional​ ​psychological​ ​neurotic​ ​was​ ​diagnosed​ ​with​ ​what​ ​we​ ​are​ ​all​ ​beginning to​ ​realise​ ​we​ ​have​ ​too,​ ​and​ ​was​ ​always​ ​there​ ​in​ ​some​ ​repressed​ ​form;​ ​a​ ​renewed​ ​sensitivity to​ ​the​ ​onslaught​ ​of​ ​concepts,​ ​an​ ​awareness​ ​of​ ​the​ ​compulsive​ ​repetition​ ​inherent​ ​in​ ​any​ ​act of​ ​making​ ​meaningful,​ ​the​ ​daunting​ ​anxiety​ ​of​ ​feeling​ ​the​ ​value​ ​of​ ​personal​ ​identity​ ​wither away​ ​in​ ​the​ ​face​ ​of​ ​neutral,​ ​indifferent​ ​postmodernism.

A.Z.: What​ ​is​ ​your​ ​description​ ​of​ ​neurosis​ ​and​ ​is​ ​it​ ​a​ ​‘first​ ​world​ ​problem’?

C.J.: A​ ​neurosis​ ​is​ ​any​ ​trajectory​ ​of​ ​thought​ ​that​ ​you​ ​abide​ ​by​ ​(whether​ ​willingly​ ​or​ ​unwillingly).​ ​It names​ ​the​ ​process​ ​of​ ​experiencing​ ​consciousness​ ​without​ ​knowing​ ​where​ ​it​ ​comes​ ​from​ ​and where​ ​it​ ​is​ ​leading​ ​you.​ ​You​ ​are​ ​in​ ​a​ ​sense​ ​‘in​ ​the​ ​middle’​ ​of​ ​consciousness,​ ​hence,​ ​you​ ​are the​ ​patient,​ ​or​ ​the​ ​victim.​ ​In​ ​this​ ​sense​ ​neurosis​ ​could​ ​not​ ​be​ ​considered​ ​as​ ​only​ ​a​ ​first​ ​world problem.​ ​Every​ ​human​ ​participates​ ​in​ ​this​ ​role​ ​of​ ​consciousness,​ ​just​ ​as​ ​everyone participates​ ​in​ Geist ​in​ ​Hegel.​ ​However,​ ​yes,​ ​neurosis​ ​has​ ​always​ ​been​ ​an​ ​exaggerated​ ​form of​ ​thought-processing,​ ​the​ ​traditional​ ​neurotic​ ​(of​ ​the​ ​diagnosed​ ​kind)​ ​gives​ ​us​ ​a​ ​clue​ ​as​ ​to the​ ​future​ ​state​ ​of​ ​cognition,​ ​he/she​ ​is​ ​simply​ ​the​ ​first​ ​that​ ​recognises​ ​it.​ ​Most​ ​of​ ​our​ ​thoughts do​ ​not​ ​have​ ​direct​ ​reference​ ​to​ ​‘physical​ ​reality’.​ ​I​ ​begin​ ​to​ ​think​ ​about​ ​something​ ​that​ ​I​ ​am perhaps​ ​meant​ ​to​ ​do,​ ​told​ ​by​ ​someone​ ​else.​ ​I​ ​begin​ ​to​ ​think​ ​about​ ​how​ ​someone​ ​else​ ​might think​ ​about​ ​me.​ ​I​ ​begin​ ​to​ ​realise​ ​that​ ​the​ ​objective​ ​of​ ​my​ ​thoughts​ ​are​ ​simply​ ​to​ ​attain symbolic/imaginary​ ​goals​ ​such​ ​as​ ​sexual,​ ​monetary​ ​and​ ​social​ ​status.​ ​I​ ​begin​ ​to​ ​understand that​ ​the​ ​desire​ ​intrinsic​ ​to​ ​my​ ​thought​ ​processes​ ​have​ ​nothing​ ​to​ ​do​ ​with​ ​maintaining​ ​social stability,​ ​they​ ​do​ ​not​ ​uphold​ ​any​ ​moral​ ​sense​ ​or​ ​moral​ ​value​ ​etc.​ ​The​ ​proliferation​ ​and sensitivity​ ​of​ ​thought​ ​in​ ​neurosis​ ​is​ ​relative​ ​to​ ​the​ ​dissolution​ ​and​ ​homogenising​ ​of​ ​traditional meaning​ ​(the​ ​subsequent​ ​relentless​ ​production​ ​of​ ​commodity​ ​fetishism​ ​everywhere​ ​in​ ​life).​ ​In this​ ​respect​ ​you​ ​could​ ​say​ ​that​ ​‘neurosis’​ ​is​ ​an​ ​anthropological​ ​description​ ​of​ ​thought​ ​in​ ​the ‘first-world’​ ​…​ ​but​ ​neurosis​ ​does​ ​not​ ​go​ ​away​ ​if​ ​you​ ​find​ ​concrete​ ​uses​ ​for​ ​it​ ​in​ ​nature;​ ​the eskimo​ ​is​ ​just​ ​as​ ​neurotic​ ​when​ ​he​ ​attributes​ ​eleven​ ​different​ ​meanings​ ​to​ ​the​ ​phenomenon snow.

The​ ​Neurotic​ ​Turn​ ​book​ ​is​ ​now​ ​available​ ​through​ ​Repeater​ ​Books

via The​ ​Neurotic​ ​Turn: Inter-Disciplinary Correspondences on Neurosis

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: