Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Grey Scales

In many of the cases reported by Oliver Sacks in his "Musicophilia," the patient haunted by compulsive music finds a great release when he learns that his hallucinations are caused by an organic brain lesion or some other kind of physical malfunctioning, not by psychological madness -- in this way, the patient no longer has to feel subjectively responsible for his own hallucinations, they become just a meaningless objective fact. Is there not, however, also a possible escape from some traumatic truth at work in this release? Sacks reports on the case of David Mamlok, an old Jewish immigrant from Germany who was haunted by musical hallucinations:
When I asked Mr. Manlok what his internal music was like, he exclaimed, angrily, that it was "tonal" and "corny." I found this choice of adjectives intriguing and asked him why he used them. His wife, he explained, was a composer of atonal music, and his own tastes were for Shoenberg and other atonal masters, though he was fond of classical and, especially, chamber music, too. But the music he hallucinated was nothing like this. It started, he said, with a German Christmas song (he immediately hummed this) and then other Christmas songs and lullabies: these were followed by marches, especially the Nazi marchings songs he had heard growing up in Hamburg in the 1930s. These songs were particularly distressing, for he was Jewish and had lived in terror of the Hitlerjungend, the belligerent gangs who had roamed the streets looking for Jews.
Did the organic stimulus here not re-awaken old traumas of obscene religio-political kitsch? Although Sacks is aware of how organically caused disturbances like musical hallucinations get invested with meaning (why these songs and not others?), nonetheless all too often the immediate reference to organic causes tends to obliterate the repressed traumatic dimension.

In the new form of subjectivity (autistic, indifferent, deprived of affective engagement), the old personality is not "sublated" or replaced by a contemporary formation, but thoroughly destroyed - destruction itself acquires a form, becomes a (relatively stable) "form of life" -- what we have is not simply the absence of form, but the form of (the) absence (of the erasure of the previous personality). More precisely, the new form is less a form of life than a form of death -- not an expression of the Freudian death drive, but, more differently, the death of the drive.

As Deleuze pointed out in "Difference and Repetition," death is always double: the Freudian death drive means that the subject wants to die, but to die in its own way, according to its own inner path, not as a result of an external accident. There is always a gap between the two, between the death drive as "transcendental" tendency and the contingent accident which kills me. Suicide is a desperate (and ultimately failed) attempt to bring the two dimensions together. There is a nice scene in a Hollywood horror movie in which a desperate young woman, alone in her bedroom, is about to kill herself when suddenly the horrible creature attacking the city breaks into the room and attacks her -- the woman then fights back desperately, since although she wanted to die, this was not the death she wanted.
- Slavoj Zizek, "Living in the End Times"

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