Academic journal article Chasqui

Borges's Jewish Uncanny and the Psychoanalytic Other: Uses of Paranoia in "La Muerte Y la Brujula"

Academic journal article Chasqui

Borges's Jewish Uncanny and the Psychoanalytic Other: Uses of Paranoia in "La Muerte Y la Brujula"

Article excerpt

Borges, Judaism, Psychoanalysis

Jews, Judaism, and Jewishness are relatively familiar topics in Borges scholarship; (1) Freudian psychoanalysis, in contrast, is largely absent from the critical bibliography on the most studied of Argentine authors. (2) This omission would be notable even if Borges had thoroughly and consistently ignored psychoanalytic ideas, (3) given that the major events of his literary career coincided chronologically with watershed moments in Freud's productive reception in Argentina (4)--the country which today persists as "the world center of psychoanalysis" (5) even as Freud's influence has declined significantly elsewhere. This article makes a case for the mutual relevance of Borges's fictional and polemical deployments of Judaism in the 1930s and 40s and his direct and oblique responses to the newly fashionable doctrines of psychoanalysis, by way of a juxtaposition of his kabbalistic detective stray "La muerte y la brujula" with Freud's ambiguous engagements with the phenomenon of paranoia. This combined focus has a strong historical basis: Borges wrote and published "La muerte y la brujula" during a period in which Argentine corporatist nationalism (a tendency he deplored) was sponsoring a proliferation of fantasies about foreign, and especially Jewish, plots against national sovereignty--some of which even featured "Borges and Freud as co-conspirators (Fmchelstem 77). Within the same milieu and the same period, the Jewish origins of Freud and many of his early disciples significantly inflected the Argentine reception of psychoanalysis. My scrutiny of the intersecting tensions between the actors just enumerated will stage an improbable encounter between Freudian interpretive paranoia, nationalist political paranoia, and Borges's fictional paranoia. La muerte y la brujula," I contend, establishes an ambivalent complicity both with nationalist narratives of foreign subversion and with Freud's foundational fiction of Oedipal rivalry as the invariable substrate of the social order. I demonstrate that these political, psychoanalytic, and literary iterations of paranoia "double" one another, paradoxically, in their antagonistic attempts to lay claim to authority in a conflicted cultural space. I will begin with a juxtaposition of Borges's and Freud's recourse to "paranoid" rhetoric and elaboration of "paranoid" accounts of human subjectivity, and then situate the "Jewish uncanny" of Borges's story within the ambience of anti-Freudian nationalism that constitutes its largely concealed backdrop.

Paranoia in Borges and Freud

One of the few mentions of Freud's name in Borges's oeuvre appears in the "Anotacion al 23 de agosto de 1944," a brief commentary on the liberation of Paris and impending defeat of the Axis powers. Speculating that Hitler may have, against his own conscious intentions, been collaborating in his own defeat by the Allied armies, Borges asks rhetorically: "?no ha razonado Freud y no ha presentido Whitman que los hombres gozan de poca informacion acerca de los moviles profundos de su conducta?" (OC 727). The invocation of the radical exteriority and unavailability of the mechanisms determining an individual's conduct is commonplace in Borges's writings, but this passage is unique in noting a resemblance between such assertions and the Freudian postulate of the unconscious. It is not difficult, though, to detect in the statement a resistance to any claim of authority on the part of psychoanalysis: by placing Whitman's name after Freud's and by positing that Whitman first "intuited" what Freud later "reasoned," Borges effectively reasserts the priority of literary intuition over psychoanalytic theorization. In this regard, Borges's terse remark recapitulates a familiar objection to the interpretive reductionism frequently attributed to psychoanalysis. That is, the inclusion of Whitman's name alongside Freud's entails a subtle repudiation of the pretention of psychoanalysis to constitute a privileged interpretive meta-language and insists on the parity of literature and psychoanalysis as sources of insight. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.