Laurence A. Rickels

[intro] [first] [second] [third] [shaft] [notes]


We're deep in the spot marked by the disjunction Freud first lodged, as plaint, inside his essay "Mourning and Melancholia" between mourning and the aberrant forms of mourning, which, however, do not put in their ghost appearance in the same essay, but always in some other place. It's in Totem and Taboo that Freud runs through the program of unmourning with station stops -- stations identification -- at haunting, vampirism, technology, and projection, all of them the stations of a double crossing between our get-well and our death wishes. To read Freud psychoanalytically means to be nonphobic about any juxtaposition that just happens with whatever is coming at you, and way cool with the way the sequence of readings is to be rearranged in a shakedown for just the right latent fit. Because even or especially inside the corpus so devoted to questions of mourning, there was also repression of mourning. There was an unmournable death, in Freud's case the death of his younger brother Julius, whose unacknowledged loss or losing was transmitted by the mother to the surviving son, and it opened up a gap in transmission, one that is at the same time a clearing for a certain readability. We arrive at least at last at an inside view of the otherwise veiled connections between technology and the unconscious. For the sake of completion or interminablity, let the record show that psychoanalysis is the science of doubling, haunting, undeath -- and that it itself, as corpus, remains in turn haunted within the projective trajectory of an encrypted loss, full of diversions, therefore, away from the safe deposit it protects. For every Oedipal plot set up in emergency measure for our diversion there remains concealed, or overlapping with it, the other plot of unburial and unmourning, the other dead meat.

The disconnection that is at the same time a connection between "Mourning and Melancholia" and Totem and Taboo, one edited out of the standard reception of Freud's thought, nevertheless returns through two sets of analogy which in turn invite the theories of incorporation and projection to conjoin by plugging away at the dig of archaeology and plugging into the media technologies. Freud's analogies for unconscious processes and psychoanalytic techniques alternate between media technologies and the underworld of archaeology. But Freud als borrows these two sets of analogy from his patients, whose delusional formations and formulations double, always only along these two lines, as endopsychic perceptions, inside views of the dysfunctioning psychic apparatus which anticipate or reproduce Freud's theories of the psychic apparatus. The atmosphere that attends Freud's closing reflections on Daniel Paul Schreber's Memoirs of My Nervous Illness is therefore, at this point of crisis around the endopsychic nature of the paranoid's delusional projections, one of vertiginous indecision whether the psychoanaltyic theory of paranoia is not at the same time the paranoid view of psychoanalysis.

To illustrate to Ratman the meaning of the difference between conscious thought and the unconscious, where the former is being incessantly worn away while the latter remains unchangeable, Freud points to the antiques in his study, commenting to his patient that they were all "only objects found in a tomb, and their burial had been their preservation: the destruction of Pompeii was only beginning now that it had been dug up." But then Freud rushes to reassure Ratman that every effort was underway to preserve Pompeii. [19] When archaeologist or analyst raises unconscious memories out of their vaults, these memorials disintegrate, like the perfectly preserved mummies of ancient Trojans which Schliemann saw -- vanish. The vanishing act belongs to the Oedipal track occupied by the father's death, where corpses can be displayed -- and lost -- among the effects of repression. But the endopsychic character of the inside view of excavation at the same time opens onto mummy's tomb, the one that can't be let go, can't change or vary.

In Hoffmann's "The Mines of Falun," Elis FrÉbom has already suffered three strikes of loss, but he wasn't out, he was in, alone with his mother after two brothers died in battle and father was dead by the same storm from which Elis was rescued. Elis's survival thus murderously holds the place of the father's death, with the double barrel of loss of brothers finishing off the Oedipal fantasy. But Elis continues to live as his father as seaman. In identification with his father he just goes -- and then, when he returns, he is forever gone to his mother, who has died in his absence. Mother's death doubles the whammy of Oedipal blockage: the undead mother cannot be substituted for -- not by living women. The barmaid hired by his fellow seamen to give Elis cheer receives only the short change that she only has the interest of investment. But, at the same time, he gives her the cloth he had originally brought home for mother. Although she returns the money when she departs to be counted from that moment missing, she takes the cloth with her in the now double wake. After the "other woman" has thus split the scene of parting, Elis only wishes he were already buried beneath the ocean floor. But a voice interrupts him, the disembodied voice of the superego entering from behind, and establishes immediate transferential rapport. Elis talks up a cure; he admits to the old miner, the one who came up upon him from behind, that he was trying to divert himself from deep depression by joining up with the other seamen (which can also be read here as "semen" or sperm) on a leave of the senses. But he is now overwhelmed, buried alive, by sensations of bleeding internally, eternally to death, into the dead. The old miner, Torbern is his name, [20] who will continue to bring up the rear, recommends for now a career switch away from the open sea, the open circulation of semen, down into the underworld passage of mining. Torbern proclaims the reflection of a higher love in the excavated minerals which glow with some image of what otherwise lies hidden up above by cloud cover.

Elis's "ego" is captive audience to Torbern's conjuration of the wonders of the deep, as though he had already gone down below with him, as though he had already identified with this underworld position. Then he has a dream. He can see right through the ocean, now a mineral mass and crystalline floor or block; above is a black shiny stone ceiling sealing off the horizon. Flowers of metal rise out of this ground. You can see the roots of the plants, and further down, beautiful maidens are on display whose hearts break open the roots growing up towards the glassy surface. Burning desire drives him down to the mine maidens. The old miner reappears, monumentalizing all-metallic on the spot. A lightning flash throws its high beam on the stern face of the Queen. Elis's desire, no longer dead, is dread and alive. He sees the stars, the outside world, through a crack in the stone roof. Then he hears his mother's voice. It looks like he can see her up along the crack of sky in the crypt ceiling. But it is a living young woman after all who reaches down for Elis's hand (the hand always given in marriage). Elis demands to be allowed to join her. He proclaims that he still belongs to the upper realm. But Torbern warns Elis to remain faithful to the Queen. Elis looks again upon her face and feels his ego flow out into the gleaming stone. He wakes up screaming.

Two thoughts now keep double-crossing his mind: on the one hand he just really misses his mother, on the other, which is the hand to be given in marriage, he wishes to run into that barmaid again. Thus he sets the substitution of women going down or out the crack in the crypt lid. But in the mode of "The Sandman," Elis at the same time fears that it will not be the barmaid turning the corner but, in her place, the uncanny trickster, Torbern. He dreads that corner and encounter but at the same time desires only to hear more and more about the underworld. Elis departs, more or less on automatic, for Falun. Like the double who upon closer inspection remains always in some other place, Torbern would appear, like an apparition, to accompany, guide, or shadow Elis's journey. Then he gets his first sight of miners crawling out of their hole in the ground just like worms. He flashes back to the yarn he once heard on the open seas about a feverish dream in which the sea gave the all clear down to where all sorts of monstrous life forms were just lying around frozen in death. The sea-worthy interpretation of such dreams was that the dreamer's own death was coming soon. Elis analogizes that inside viewing, the attendance at one's own funeral, with his own x-ray vision of the mined earth. But then a drop scene interrupts the psychotic breakup of connections: a local celebration surrounds him and in its tow he too enters the home of a father and his daughter, Ulla. Elis recognizes her immediately as the dream maiden who had extended a helping hand to him down there in the crypt. Deja vu helps extend the original substitution series by one, if not the same one. Elis stays put, alternating workdays down in the mine with free time spent with Ulla above ground.

To get Elis to make his move and take his daughter's hand already, the father stages Ulla's engagement to another man, while at the same time asking Elis to continue living with him as his son. Ellis slides from this Oedipal frameup down into his desperate last-ditch effort of auto-recovery along the same lines that get him there, the cracks of psychotic breakdown. He summons Torbern, wants all the magic back, and gets to see the maidens, metallic plants, and the Queen. Father retrieves Elis from this underworld and gives the boy another break by interpreting the break down into the mine as just his way of shaking on it. Father pronounces Elis and Ulla to be joined in matrimony. But by now Elis just can't shake his underworld thoughts. Ulla's alarm prompts father's reassurance that their wedding night will be all the cureall the doctor ordered for fantasies centering on the under zones of mother earth.

But father, who would appear to hold the movie rights to the Hollywood version of the story, also, it was just a test, drove Elis to make the break which now makes his delusional ties with the queen the strongest they've ever been. Elis cannot but identify his authentic ego as residing with her. But he cannot give away their secret to Ulla. To utter the Queen's name would be to petrify it all as under the gaze and curse of Medusa. The thought alone transforms his beautiful vision into pure hell. Finally, on the morning of the cure, the Big One the father in law has been waiting for, Elis feels compelled to go down just once more to find the prize he saw so clearly in last night's dream vision and bring it back up as wedding present for his bride to be. Or not to be. Only by going down, one last time, will their inner beings coalesce with the wondrous branches growing right from the heart of the queen at earth's center. But then -- one can never be careful enough about what one wishes for -- he gets buried alive.

Fifty years later the corpse is found perfectly preserved, a young man looking like he's only sleeping. An old woman arrives right on schedule. She comes to the mines every Feast of St. John, the day that was to be and was never to be her wedding day. It's Ulla who got this reunion schedule back then from Torbern as consolation prize. And it's Elis who's back, forever young. Old Ulla embraces her undead betrothed, dies on him, their consummation now complete. She is no longer a living woman, no longer the killer substitute. But she was around long enough to mourn for the two of them, for what was bigger than both of them. Now Elis's exquisite corpse can be all it can be, just dust.

Elis's dead siblings were last seen in the prehistory of Hoffmann's story, in the finish line given any rivals for Elis's solo bonding with mother. His doubling of the father's departure would then figure as punishment for the wish for merger with mother and for murder of all rivals, with the father at the front of the line. And then the story proper begins, over the doubling and dividing body of the lost mother. But the double-header Oedipal plot lies between the mother and the barmaid. Torbern and the Queen, the two underworld figures, come from behind the mother's death by way of another transmission.

In the original record of the Ratman case, Freud attributes to the one who cannot mourn belief in the "omnipotence of thoughts" (a phrase Freud borrowed from Ratman). The early belief that your thought or wish is at the same time a command always finds first application as a death wish. The trajectory of that wish leads Ratman to entertain ideas about survival after death which "are as consistently materialistic as those of the Ancient Egyptians." [21] Although in the case study proper Freud judges endless mourning for the father to be at the bottom of Ratman's obsessional neurosis, in the footnote underworld Freud grants a dead sister "epic" significance in Ratman's fantasies. And yet, Freud concludes, the terms and conditions of analysis had precluded exploration of the sibling's crypt. [22] In the original record, however, the dead sister Katherine rules absolutely: "What is the origin of his idea of his omnipotence?" Freud asks: "I believe it dates back to the first death in his family, that of Katherine." [23] In the corner of every primal scene presided over, according to the public record, by Ratman's dead father, we find, in the original record: Katherine was there. "He had a memory that he first noticed the difference between the sexes when he saw his deceased sister Katherine (five years his senior) sitting on the pot, or something of the sort." [24] Another pot containing two rats which penetrate into or come out of the anus first sends Ratman to Freud. As he listened to the officer recount this potty torturing, Ratman saw the ground heave in front of him as though there were a rat under it. [25] Under the case study a footnote allows that rats are chthonic animals that convey the souls of dead children.[26]

As his transferences attest, on the original record, Ratman allows his dangerous past to emerge only by tapping into Freud's own: Ratman imagines Freud and his wife with a dead child between them. "The dead child can only be his sister Katherine, he must have gained by her death." [27] But Freud, thus charged with proper burial of a dead child, only discerns Ratman gaining -- on him. Freud thus registers this gain on the other side of his own resistance, which emerges spectacularly at the start of the original record: "I have not mentioned from earlier sessions three interrelated memories dating from his fourth year, which he describes as his earliest ones and which refer to the death of his elder sister Katherine. . . . (It is curious that I am not certain whether these memories are his. . . .)" In the next entry Freud continues: "My uncertainty and forgetfulness . . . seem to be intimately connected. The memories were really his. . . . (They were forgotten owing to complexes of my own.)" [28]

Ratman is the name Freud bestowed on his patient in a case he recast as centering on a patronymic which always reappears only to slip away again like the rat the son saw slip out of his father's grave. But in Ratman's circle of friends and family he's called Leichenvogel, "carrion bird," owing to his regular attendance at funerals, even anticipating or scheduling in deaths ahead of time. He's the life of the funeral party. This is a name-calling Ratman answers to. Ghostbusters take Ratman at this word and call him carrion bird: the part of rat goes to his dead sister. When the sister died, her brother, under the lack of direction of a mother of a repression, consumed the rat he henceforward carried inside. Birds, always on a return trajectory, do not die; their skin and feathers are stuffed by that which they animate and cover over. The rat under cover of carrion bird is at the controls of Ratman's death cult. Those pulled into the crypt -- pot or anus -- by the rat that penetrates them must slave, deep down in the mines, to pay for the rat's every wish, which is their command. The case that begins in the military setting of torture-tale swapping ends in the noman's land of World War One where Leichenvogel dies without ever letting the rat out of the bag.

- Laurence A. Rickels

[intro] [first] [second] [third] [shaft] [notes]