Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Order Catastrophically Unknown

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Order Catastrophically Unknown

Article excerpt

The quandaries of Freud's second metapsychological model, fully exposed in "Beyond the Pleasure Principle," are analyzed via his analogy of the amoeba and its pseudopodium. Those quandaries emerge, on the one hand, as the problem of an inanimate that always already "mobilizes" the animate, and, on the other hand, as the impossible origin of what Derrida describes as autodeictic autobiography, understood here as life. Suppose such a syntagm: "Order catastrophically unknown." Flashed on a screen in some operations room crowded with aghast personnel and overheating machines alike: the personnel either brow-furrowed Americans in crisp uniforms or incomprehensible transgalactic aliens, or a combination of one and the other; the machines a serial constellation of flashing lights, pixilated frames, maps, and increasingly detailed GPS zooms, dials, levers, and buttons. Flashed on a screen or announced in staccato monotone by a synthesized android voiceover name of Hal or Ethel: "Order catastrophically unknown." Imagine any version of that from any film or TV series that one may or may not avow knowing or loving--Lost in Space, Dr. Strangelove, Battlestar Galactica, The Bourne Ultimatum--any of those of the last forty or fifty years, the time of our current technologico-revolutionary suspension. Or imagine it emitting from a time period more or less twice that length, the time, say, that is simultaneously triplicated as the long twentieth century, the time of cinema and/or photography, and the time of psychoanalysis. "Order catastrophically unknown." Suppose it, in that context, as the syntagm, something like the first utterance of what we now presume to recognize as the unconscious. Some previously undiscovered and unclassified life form, just emerging into taxonomic space. Some animal like that. A first man called Freud stands forth, like Adam in Genesis Chapter 2, under the gaze of God, to respond to the call of naming the creatures that parade before him. He begins with eel gonads in 1876 in Trieste, moves on to lamprey larvae, and then, twenty-odd years later, spots something he will call the Unconscious. A chimera, hitherto unnoticed, or at least unnamed. Suppose said syntagm as the taxonomic quandary of being faced with such a new life form. Or suppose it, finally--"order catastrophically unknown"--as that very unconscious itself uttering itself, perhaps in the guise of the death-drive or the very inorganic origin that gives rise to it. Something that couldn't be, doesn't know how to be, is no longer once its uttering takes the form of a coherent syntagmatic chain articulated by means of coded linguistic forms employed by a rational living being.

The syntagm I am asking to be supposed is a paraphrase of a quote from "Envois," in Derrida's The Post Card: "My post card naively overturns everything. In any event, it allegorizes what is catastrophically unknown about order" (21). (1) The French is l'insu catastrophique de l'ordre, which might be rendered more literally as "the catastrophic unknown concerning order." The order Derrida is referring to is, in the first place, sequential ordering. He continues: "Finally one begins no longer to understand what to come, to come before, to come after, to foresee, to come back all mean" (21). But one should also read in it, in the context of the generic or taxonomic conundrum that Derrida wants his post card to represent, the catastrophe of what is unknown concerning classification. In the case on which I want to concentrate here, that of life-death, animate-inanimate relations, both orders are in question: what comes first, and how something is to be classified. As Derrida states in the opening to "To Speculate--On 'Freud'": "The issue [...] is to rebind [...] the question of life death to the question of the position (Setzung), the question of positionality in general, of positional (oppositional or juxtapositional) logic" (259). Psychoanalysis, he will persistently argue, with its delayed effects, returns, and reversals, overturns the simple linearity of causal relations. …

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