Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Short Analysis of a Fragment of Adorno's Aesthetic Theory

       As I try to transform my prospectus into a cohesive 10-12 page response from its original format of 32 overwhelming pages, I find myself having to cut some interesting material.  For instance, I wound up having to cut the passage that I have included below, which uses Adorno to think through the relationship between artistic form and social formations.  Rather than abandoning it completely, I thought I would include it here.  Consider it a precursor to some of the material that I have produced over the past few months on the relationship between aesthetic form and politics.

     The linkage between form and politics is most directly developed by Theodor Adorno in his Aesthetic Theory. Adorno’s analysis of the aesthetic utilizes Leibniz’s concept of the monad to capture the dialectical tension of literature ‘as both autonomous and fait social.’ For Leibniz, the concept of the monad links to his general concept of the harmony of nature, each element of the whole containing the key to understanding the whole. This concept of the monad then becomes the key for understanding the literary work, operating both within its autonomous sphere and containing the key to understanding a whole realm of social relations that exist outside of it. However, Adorno abandons Leibniz’s organic and harmonious whole for a concept of antagonistic totality. Adorno states this in the following terms.

     “That artworks as windowless monads “represent” what they themselves are not can scarcely be understood except in that their immanent historicity as a dialectic of nature and its domination, not only is of the same essence as the dialectic external to them but resembles it without imitating it. The aesthetic force of production is the same as that of productive labor and has the same teleology; and what may be called aesthetic relations of production—all that in which the productive force is embedded and in which it is active—are sedimentations or imprintings of social relations of production. Art’s double character as both as both autonomous and fait social is incessantly reproduced on the level of its autonomy. It is by virtue of this relationship to the empirical that artworks recuperate, neutralized, what once was literally and directly experienced in life and what was expulsed by spirit…. The basic levels of experience that motivate art are related to those of the objective world from which they recoil. The unsolved antagonisms of reality return in artworks as immanent problems of form. This, not the insertion of objective elements, defines the relation of art to society. The complex of tensions in artworks crystallizes undisturbed in these problems of form and through emancipation from the external world’s factual façade converges with the real essence.”[1]

     The relationship between the ‘artwork’ and its outside is understood through a structure of homology between the ‘aesthetic force of production’ and that of ‘productive labor.’ Both are ‘embedded’ in the social relations of production, that is, both are products of the structures of the social logic of capitalist domination, and simultaneously tied into the same social struggles that make up its teleology. The artist (as subject and as subject position) is both produced within the violence of the structures of social domination and resistance that constitute capitalist social relations and use as her or his raw material the ideology of those struggles, or, as Adorno states it, the ‘neutralized’ contents of what is ‘directly experienced in life’ and is ‘expulsed by spirit.’ Therefore the ‘artwork’ is both autonomous, in that it must be understood as a unique assemblage of ideological and material elements, and that it directly emerges from the social forces that shape the society as a whole. Thus, Adorno refuses simultaneously, a set of formal demands made by Marxist critics such as Georg Lukacs who demand a sort of mimetic ‘representation’ of its outside in the form of a sort of historical realism[2] that he finds in the works of Walter Scott among others. At the same time, it refuses the fantasy contained in the concept of an art for its own sake, which Adorno amongst others would link to the specific artistic alienation produced by the transforming social relations of the production of art. Instead, the artwork must be understood within the forces of production that created it, and specifically the multitude of social discourses that both are produced and reproduce the social. While this relationship may seem initially to point to a simplicity and clarity in the relationship, it is important to remember that this gestures to the fact that the artwork itself is as complex and overdetermined as the society is as a totality.

[1] Theodore Adorno, Aesthetic Theory (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000).
[2] See Georg Lukacs, The Historical Novel (Omaha: University of Nebraska Press, 1988).

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A short comment on Mary Shelley's The Last Man

      As I continue to work on academic work, here is an earlier set of notes about Mary Shelley's The Last Man.  I hope that it captures some the genuine strangeness of the book.

            At an initial glance, The Last Man looks like it should be categorized within the genre of science fiction.  Most obviously, the text opens in the year 2073 and moves to the year 2093, which marks the end of humanity.  This eschatological element also ties in with many of the dystopian themes found in science fiction.  The text even imagines the collapse of the monarchy.  However, on close inspection, the text doesn’t fit many of the norms around the genre.  To begin, the narrative does not draw on the genre of travel literature, nor does it replicate similar anthropological tropes of fieldwork.  There is little thought given to either the technological developments of the society or its broader sociological transformation.  The focus remains resolutely character based, and there is little sense of the world being pushed to the foreground.
            If anything, the text operates in the allegorical register that Fredric Jameson is so focused on in his work on science fiction.  For instance, the war on Greece described in the text is a thin allegory for the war of independence that took Lord Byron’s life.  There has also been ample research linking each of the characters with Shelley’s inner circle.  Lord Raymond stands in for Lord Byron, Adrian stands in for Percy Shelley, etc.  With the exception of the resignation of the king, the world we are looking at is of Europe of Mary Shelley’s time.  I would argue that this text and its dependency on thin allegory show some of the weaknesses to Jameson’s theory.  It is precisely the allegorical elements that make this text not operate as science fiction.  Instead, it operates within the norms of romanticism, while challenging some of its English practitioner’s optimism in the possibility of progress.
            So what does the text do?  Perhaps, we should start off with a brief overview of the plot.  The novel begins with the narrator Verney meeting with Adrian for the first time.  Verney portrays himself as a wild youth, without training.  Jane Blumberg argues that this portrayal acts as a parody of Wordsworth’s emphasis on the ideal of the solitary wanderer.[1]  This meeting brings Verney both into an intellectual life and the society of Adrian among others.  This leads to fairly elaborate intrigue with Adrian’s mother, who both disapproved of Verney and his father before him (who was a friend of Adrian’s father, the former king.)[2]  His mother desires that Adrian take up the throne that had been abandoned by his father, but Adrian has responded to his mother’s ambitions by becoming a republican.  His mother responds to this by both putting Adrian into an asylum and trying to tie her fortunes to another character, Lord Raymond, who just came back from a victory in Greece.
            To make a long series of complex intrigues short, Adrian’s mother eventually fails and Raymond marries Adrian’s sister.  Raymond marries Verney’s sister Perdita, and Adrian is rescued from his isolation.  This marks one of the many temporary points of happiness in the text.  However, this moment of bliss ends as Raymond returns to politics in order to run for the position of Protector of England.  At the same time that he is involved in the campaign, he begins an affair with another woman.  Eventually, this revelation leads him to resign his position and to escape his domestic situation to fight another war in Greece.  His eventual plan is to be able to claim the privilege of conquering Constantinople.  The narrative both emphasizes the useless destruction of the war and holds onto a heroic view of Raymond.
            But at the same time, the eventual capture of Constantinople leads to the outbreak of the plague.  The city is found empty, and the plague spreads among the soldiers.  Raymond dies during the entrance of the city, but from a random wall falling down.  The remaining characters return to England, and wait for the plague to come. 
            With the coming of the plague, Adrian eventually takes the position of the Protector of England.  The narrative emphasizes his skill in dealing with the city in a time of plague, but his actions are primarily futile.  Eventually, humanity is reduced to a few thousand people.  It looks as if some sort of egalitarian society can be formed at this point.  As the narrator points out, “poor and rich now were equal, or rather the poor were the superior, since they entered on such tasks with alacrity and experience…”  Eventually, the living travel to the desolate city of Paris, where they fall into combat with a religious sect.  This combat is dovetailed by the return of the plague.  The plot ends with Verney standing alone, Adrian and Clara having fallen into the sea and drowned.  Verney writes this tail for noone and wonders the empty streets of Europe.
            My inclination is not to follow the symptomatic readings of the text that are touched on in both Blumberg and Kari Lokke’s text.  They are not irresponsible readings, and the text bears them out, but I’m not that interested.  Instead, my interest is the way the text operates as an allegory for the aftermath of the French Revolution and the terror produced by it and by Napoleon’s wars of conquest.  This narrative is a familiar one for the English romantics.  There is an early attraction to the possibilities of the revolution, then an eventual revulsion, and either a turning away from politics or a turning to conservatism.
            This text certainly follows this to an extent.  The ideal of the republic cannot save England from the plague, but despite its quotations of Edmund Burke, the grandeur and tradition of England is equally incapable of saving the country.  The text stands in an interesting situation.  There is no possibility of progress available, and at the same time, the old forms as represented by Burke’s concept of tradition have been destroyed.  Shelley seems to be gesturing towards a void between the dead forms of the old and the stillborn forms of the new.

[1] She read his sister in the same manner.  “Exclusive communion with nature has retarded her and it is the effects of civilization… which redeem her.”  On Verney, “I had lived in what is generally called the world of reality, and it was awakening to a new country to find that there was a deeper meaning in all I saw….”  (Blumberg 127-128)
[2] The possibilities to read this as a veiled allusion to Shelley’s life are not a stretch to say the least.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Suvin, H.G. Wells, "The Time Machine, Science Fiction and the Fantastic

     In his essay on “The Time Machine”, Darko Suvin argues that the novelette is “at least one of the basic historical models for science-fiction structuring.” (Suvin 91) It presents interpretations of the future society of the Eloi that cover the basic forms of imagining the future in sociological science fiction, ranging from the utopian to the dystopian. He then looks at the influence that Huxley’s theories on evolution had on the structure of the novel. While he notes that Wells also drew influence from what Suvin refers to as a commonsense ‘folk biology’, “the principle of a Wellsian structure of science fiction is mutation of scientific into aesthetic cognition.” (Suvin 101) This material all ties in with the basic thesis that Suvin presents in his fundamental argument about the structure of science fiction as a genre in Metamorphoses of Science Fiction.

     In that piece, Suvin argues that Science fiction can be understood as a separate genre through the concept of cognitive estrangement. This separates the genre from ‘naturalism’ because of its engagement with estrangement. It no longer operates within the ideological ‘zero world” of its author. The naturalized constraints of the world of the author, whether social or technological, are seen as contingent and the author imagines a world that operates within different social rules. At the same time, science fiction distinguishes itself from the realm of the fantastic, by trying to limit its speculations to what science has deemed to be possible. Rather than delving into the impossible, science fiction tries to open up possibilities in what is possible. This allows the reader to break through the ideological barriers of the contemporary society to an extent.

     Suvin’s reading is compelling, and is extraordinarily useful, but I am more convinced by the first part of the argument than I am by the second part of the argument. Without a doubt, Wells’s narrative and aesthetic are influenced by the science of his times, as are his discussions of the nature of time, but how does the narrative get to the point of being able to explore the realm of time? This element of the story seems to put a bit of a dent in Suvin’s belief in a strong separation of the genres. The question that may need to be posed is how much do the realms of wonder (magic, the marvelous and the fantastic) begin to mix with science, and how much do they overdetermine each other?

     In order to begin this discussion, it might be productive to look at the initial description of the model of the time machine.

     The thing the Time Traveler held in his hand was a glittering metallic framework, scarcely larger than a small clock, and very delicately made. There was ivory in it, and some transparent crystalline substance. And now I must be explicit, for this that follows—unless his explanation is to be accepted—is an absolutely unaccountable thing. (Wells 11)

     The opening description of the device falls out of the scientific narrative that Suvin stake so much importance on. Instead, we are offered a narrative of an object that is, in essence, fantastic. This is not only apparent in the lack of explanation of the device, but in its construction, which both emphasize delicacy and a construction that emphasizes its beauty. Instead of a description of the clockwork of the machine, we are told of its crystalline and ivory construction. Further into the narrative, the Time Traveler notes that, “You will notice that it looks askew, and that there is an odd twinkling appearance about this bar, as though it was in some way unreal.” (Wells 12) This unreality, along with mystical properties imbued in its construction, points to something that escapes the realm of the cognitive.

     The plot’s construction itself borrows heavily from elements that Todorov would consider essential to the fantastic. The tension in the narrative structure comes from the question whether the Time Traveler is a reliable or an unreliable narrator. We are told from the beginning that this is a man that is not widely trusted. “The fact is, the Time Traveler was one of those men who are too clever to be believed; you never felt that you saw all round him; you always suspected some subtle reserve, some ingenuity in ambush behind his lucid frankness.” (Wells 15) It had already been established that this distrust had some merit. The Time Traveler had already played tricks on the group of friends, mechanically creating the effects of a ghost. Thus, the Time Traveler looks far more like a conjurer than a scientist. The question we are posed with is whether that ability comes from smoke and mirrors or it comes from something genuine. The narrative seems to indicate the latter, although it only does that through the negative, the disappearance of the Time Traveler in what could best described as a poof of smoke.

     If we take the basic gist of the critics of fantasy seriously, that the fantastic allows us to engage with material that is unsymbolizable in the present, then it isn’t surprising that these techniques would be crucial in presenting social orders and scientific discoveries that are as of yet unimaginable. The curious thing is that the critics of the fantastic are as eager to banish science fiction to the realm of the marvelous as Suvin is eager to banish it from the realm of the cognitive, but “The Time Machine” operates easily within the dictates of Todorov’s demand of suspension, as well as it does within Suvin’s demands for cognitive estrangement. It’s not that these concepts should be collapsed, but there seems to be some limit in reading the genres in isolation.

Some Basic Concepts of Jean Laplanche

      In a continuation of printing older material as I work on my academic work, here is a slightly revised essay on the basic concepts of the psychoanalyst, Jean Laplanche.  Laplanche is an interesting figure.  Originally involved in the radical organization, Socialism or Barbarism, Laplanche went onto work with Jacques Lacan.  He was unsatisfied with the approach of Lacan, and went back to the work of Sigmund Freud to establish a new foundation for psychoanalysis.  Unlike the Hegelian idealism at the heart of Lacan's project, Laplanche's work is much more in line with a materialist analysis of the unconscious, and is probably the most relevant psychoanalytical thinker for a radical and materialist analysis.  Despite the revision to the essay, there are still a number of elements in the analysis that need to be developed and thought through.  But here are, in essence, my first thoughts on the question.

       What is interesting about Jean Laplanche’s thought, is despite the fact that it comes across fairly clearly in his work, ultimately Laplanche is a concise thinker who is concerned with communicating with an audience, is that it isn’t necessarily easy to reproduce. I think that this comes from the fact that his models and thought processes resist the sort of taxidermic models that structure so much of academic thought. His concepts are so overdetermined and overlapping, that in order to discuss one of them, one inevitably brings up a number of the others. Nonetheless this is the modus operandi of this essay. I will begin with some comments about the relation of Laplanche’s relationship with the overall world of psychoanalytic thought. From there, I will move into the concepts in a more formal, if terse, manner, discussing seduction, translation, and the drive.

      Despite the critiques the critiques that Jean Laplanche makes of the concept of the “infant Robinson,” the infant and the genesis of the unconscious is an ideal place to begin a discussion of Laplanche’s engagement with psychoanalysis. His book New Foundations of Psychoanalysis introduces this argument in its most direct form. What we find occurring is the rejection of a whole structure of terms and concepts as the basis of psychoanalysis. The oedipal structure and crisis and the mother’s breast become historically contingent, cultural phenomena. Instead the trans-historical basis for the unconscious can be found within the interaction between the infant and the adult who cares for it. We can see this as both a very radical re-theorization of psychoanalysis and at the same time a movement that can be described as very conservative, defending the trans-historical nature of the unconscious against the assault of post-structuralism and feminism.

     This maneuver pushes the trans-historical elements of the unconscious into a very small corner. But this maneuver doesn’t transform Laplanche into an Albert Hourani type figure arguing for a limited space for a primarily obsolete psychoanalysis. Instead, he make an argument for a psychoanalysis that isn’t afraid of ‘culturalism,’ that sees an interdisciplinary engagement as a necessity for its development. He looks to some of Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s observations as guide in this. “A philosopher interested in clinical observation, in very concrete experiments involving children, and in the observations of an anthropologist! He could teach a lesson to more than one psychoanalyst. We can learn the same lesson from Freud, who was never afraid to refer to observation, and to anthropological observation in particular…”[1] Laplanche looks to Merleau-Ponty as a useful methodological example, precisely though his willingness to engage in interdisciplinary scholarship. It’s notable that Merleau-Ponty’s engagements, examining the work of clinical observation, philosophy, and anthropology are engagements both taken up by Jacques Lacan, and more significantly, Sigmund Freud himself. At a more level, the study of the unconscious has to be placed into the study of social relations, both at the level of the interpersonal and at the level of social structures.

     Laplanche returns to examine Freud’s theory of seduction, which the dominant strains of psychoanalysis argue, was abandoned, and that this abandonment constitutes the genesis of psychoanalysis. This fascination with seduction runs against the current found within Jeffrey Masson’s work. His interest is in the theoretical ramifications of seduction rather than its empirical dimensions. As a matter of fact, he suggests that Freud spent too much time on the actual incidents of abuse, rather than too little. In effect, Masson doesn’t recognize that Freud doesn’t abandon the seduction theory when he begins to beyond a model that poses a one to one relationship between fantasy and reality. Instead, Freud is developing a broader theory of the genesis of sexuality.

     Instead he draws up a general theory of seduction, one that can be linked to any number of contingent relationships between an adult and a child.

     “I am using, then, using the term primal seduction to describe a fundamental situation in which an adult proffers to a child verbal, non-verbal and even behavioral signifiers which are pregnant with unconscious sexual significations. We do not have to look far to find concrete examples of what I call enigmatic signifiers. Can analytic theory afford to go on ignoring the extent to which women unconsciously and sexually cathect the breast, which appears to be a natural organ for lactation? It is inconceivable that the infant does not notice this sexual cathexis, which might be said to be perverse in the sense that term is defined in the Three Essays. It is impossible to imagine that the infant does not suspect that the cathexis is the source of the nagging question: what does the breast want from me, apart from wanting to suckle me, and, come to that why does it want to suckle me?”[2]

     Rather than continually looking for the traumatic origin of sexuality in some form of abuse, Laplanche argues that the introduction of sexuality needs to be understood within the daily activities between infant and mother, more specifically, the act of breast feeding. The act of feeding is then linked to the fact that women conventionally “unconsciously and sexually cathect the breast.” Laplanche then argues that the child undoubtedly picks up on this ‘sexual cathexis,’ which is then offered to the child as an incomprehensible signifiers. In addition to the economy of need that the milk fulfills, there is an additional economy of pleasure, one that exists in relation to the enigmatic signifiers sent by the mother. These signifiers are then engaged with by the child, who, at some level, poses the question, what is does this set of signifiers mean, and what does it have to do with me?

     Laplanche uses the breast within this example, but it should be understood that the breast doesn’t take the place of the penis in a re-centered oedipal structure. We are in fact reminded earlier in the book that increasingly children are not being breast fed, and that it may be that in the future most children will not in fact be breast fed. The reason why he make reference to the breast, and Freud makes reference to the care of the mother is that they are still the most common forms of care of the child, but that doesn’t mean that they are essential to the operation. This doesn’t change the enigmatic messages sent through the adult. This can take any number of forms, touching, speech, the gaze of the child, etc.

      The enigmatic signifier isn’t simple or untroubled. On asked of its nature, Laplanche responded, “it is conflict-full, conflictual, because it is enigmatic, unknown, hidden, it involves the repressed. It is like the example of parapraxes, slips of the tongues and so on… our conscious messages are infiltrated by unconscious ones which remain unconscious because there is conflict.”[3] The gift that is proffered, perhaps unknowingly, the introduction into human society, is one that is complex and riddled with contradictions and aporias.

     The unconscious is in fact produced through the work of translation. Translation is the work of interpreting the message. “The unconscious grows from different types of messages. But metapsychologically, I don’t say that the unconscious is made up of enigmatic signifiers, as such, which would mean that the unconscious of the child is the unconscious of the mother. Instead there is an active part played by the infant which is repression; that is, the infant doesn’t take the whole of the message, but tries to understand it and the parts he understands do not become unconscious. The unconscious grows and grows, not in an organized manner, but side by side with those different types of relationships with the cares are interrelations of self-preservation, but which from the point of view of sexuality are only one-way relations (from the adult to the infant).”[4]

     This is a significant point. It shifts away from a concept of the unconscious that can in any sense be linked to a primordial past of any sort. Nor can it be linked to the level of structure. Laplanche insists, “I am not denying the existence of essential stages such as the Oedipus and castration, even though I would claim that they, as opposed to primal seduction, are secondary stages.”[5] The unconscious is defined in terms of repression. Repression operates as a productive structuration, producing both the “I” of the ego and the force of the unconscious. The unconscious instead of being a sort of primordial structure becomes a discontinuous series of thing-like signifiers. It becomes “a un-metabolized trace.” He goes on to say, “It’s not a representation. It’s something that remains from the process. It’s a by-product of the process, a by-product which is continually reactivated.”[6]

     This moves us in to the more troubled territory of “propping.” Laplanche retranslates Freud’s term, “Anlehnung” from James Strachey’s translation of the term as “anaclisis.” This literalization of the term serves to redefine and problematize this concept. “Strachey’s use of ‘anaclisis’ as the translation for this has nothing to with the Anlehnung of Freud. The idea of ‘leaning on’ is the idea that sexuality emerges on the basis of self-preservation, it ‘leans on’ that basis, but it’s not just an internal movement.”[7]

     Laplanche expands this to connect with the idea of seduction, which had been abandoned in its original formulations. “We have here something resembling an onion with one layer of its skin peeled off or a flower which has lost a petal. And to make the point succinctly, onions do not peel themselves. Seduction peels what might be termed a sexual layer away from the self-preservation. Seduction peels the onion of self-preservation; self-preservation does not split as a result of some indefinable endogenous movement.”[8]

     Jean Laplanche links the problem of the drive with a number of fairly significant structural problems. ”Yes with regard to the English-speaking world, this is the main issue, because the English speaking world has been invaded by the mistranslation of Trieb as ‘instinct’. The object relations school, the ego psychology, the Kleinian school – all these schools fail to make a basic distinction between drive and instinct. As a consequence they still have the idea of a biological basis to infantile sexuality, a predetermined basis, expressed in the evolution of sexuality through certain human stages. This is correlated with the concept of in instinct – an instinct that develops through certain stages. Human sexuality is completely reduced to an old biological model. The whole of Freud’s discovery is forgotten. Freud sometimes forgets it too, in fact.”[9]

     We can see in here the deconstructive element of Jean Laplanche, the side that finds a certain alliance with Sigmund Freud’s Three Essays on Sexuality. We can see the same modes of deconstruction contained within Freud’s thought there, an attempt to deconstruct the structures of normative sexuality, by showing that they are precisely that, normative cultural structures. Laplanche looks at the way that confusion of the concepts of “Instinkt” and “Trieb” which gets put in the service of a certain type of normative sexuality that places under a concept of a biological one. He also links this to problems with Freud’s thought itself, which often rebels against the implications of his most radical concepts.

     The drive also becomes one of the most constructive places for Laplanche’s rethinking of the project of psychoanalysis. “We don’t have meaning, we have the signifier. The signifier, which can have a meaning, but which becomes a force. It is the force of the ‘thing-signifier’. The message forces me to translate. There is a force to translate, a Trieb-a-drive-to translate, which is inside the message itself.”[10] Laplanche frequently refers to this drive, the only real drive it would seem, and as one that ‘perverts’ the limited structures of self-preservation within the young human subject. This perversion is linked to certain unevenness, an “unevenness inside the message.” This unevenness is a clear reference to the uneven capacities between the adult and the child. He then moves on to say. “I would say the message itself contains the enigma.” There seems to be a linkage between the concept of the enigma and the unevenness of force contained within the message.

     The concept of Nachtraglichkeit, or ‘afterwardsness’ becomes crucial to understand the relationship of trauma to the structure of the drive and the nature of the enigmatic message. The trauma takes place in the process of ‘afterwardsness.’ The enigmatic message taken in at an earlier place but was placed in the state of unconsciousness. The trauma is only activated in an incident, which allows for the enigmatic signifier to link itself to another incident. This is why Freud links trauma and neurosis with overdetermination, because the ‘thing-like’ signifiers of the unconscious must always link themselves to other signifiers to reach the state of representation.

     This single drive can be divided into to two aspects, “the life and death drives.” He points to the work of Klein as good place to define these concepts. “The so-called ‘life’ sexual drive corresponds to a whole and totalizing object; it is bound (in Freud’s sense of continuing to exist in more or less coherent manner, of not being fragmented) because it relates to a totalizing object or to an object than can be totalized.” Laplanche links this with the concept of metaphor. “The death drive, on the other hand, corresponds to a part object which is scarcely an object, as it is, even in Klein’s description, unstable, shapeless and fragmented; it is, therefore, closer to metonymy than metaphor.”[11]

     While he schematizes these two drives, he emphasizes their heterogeneous relation to the primary and secondary processes of the drive, “we cannot establish a complete equation between the two, or say that the entire primary process is dominated by the death drive whilst the entire secondary process is dominated by the life drives. We have a complimentary series rather than a real opposition… The absolute primary process and the absolute secondary process are linked by a series which distributes varying degrees of metaphor and metonymy, but there is no point at which we can speak of pure metonymy and pure metaphor.”[12] This once again seems to be linked to a critique of a biologizing concept of the drive. A concept that Klein seems to accept in schematizing the ‘life’ and ‘death drives’ in the manner she does.

     Although this brief summary hardly does justice to the thoroughness of Laplanche’s ideas, it does show a thread of continuity. Laplanche as I said before is involved a process that works to both radically transform psychoanalysis and conserve it as an important site of knowledge. What is transformed are the moments that psychoanalysis is used as a device to reinforce and naturalize the contingent structures of culture. But Laplanche doesn’t do this in the more radical form of ‘anti-psychiatry’ or the manner of, say, Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen. Instead, he finds that they can already be found within Freud’s work itself. Freud’s work, while guilty of the charges above also reads those formations symptomatically and culturally. Laplanche’s work recognizes both within the work, and works to produce something else within them.

[1] Jean Laplanche, New Foundations for Psychoanalysis, trans. David Macy (New York: Blackwell, 1989), 92
[2] Jean Laplanche, New Foundations for Psychoanalysis, trans. David Macy (New York: Blackwell, 1989), 126
[3] Jean Laplanche, “The Kent Seminar”, in Jean Laplanche:Seduction Translation, Drives, Ed. John Fletcher and Martin Stanton (London: Institute of Contemporary Arts, 1992), 23.
[4] Jean Laplanche, “The Kent Seminar”, in Jean Laplanche:Seduction Translation, Drives, Ed. John Fletcher and Martin Stanton (London: Institute of Contemporary Arts, 1992), 25.
[5] Jean Laplanche, New Foundations for Psychoanalysis, trans. David Macy (New York: Blackwell, 1989), 149
[6] Jean Laplanche, “The other within: Rethinking psychoanalysis”
[7] ibid.
[8] Jean Laplanche, New Foundations for Psychoanalysis, trans. David Macy (New York: Blackwell, 1989), 145
[9]Jean Laplanche, “The other within: Rethinking psychoanalysis” in Radical Philosophy 102 (2000)
[10] Jean Laplanche, “The other within: Rethinking psychoanalysis” in Radical Philosophy 102 (2000)
[11] Jean Laplanche, New Foundations for Psychoanalysis, trans. David Macy (New York: Blackwell, 1989), 146-147.
[12] Jean Laplanche, New Foundations for Psychoanalysis, trans. David Macy (New York: Blackwell, 1989),147.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Profit, Crisis, Catastrophe, and Subjectivity (On Antonio Negri's Marx Beyond Marx)

An older analysis of part of Negri's Marx Beyond Marx that I recently stumbled upon. There has been a notable backlash against the Empire project over the past few years. I certainly agree with many of the critiques of the project, most notably the critique presented by Paulo Virno in his recent work. However, it is notable that many of these critiques focus exclusively on the three texts of the collaboration, ignoring the substantial critical work that Negri produced in his exile. If one wants to produce a critique of Negri, it strikes me that one should engage with this substantial base, rather than the more fragile superstructure of the collaborations.

Chapter Five of Marx Beyond Marx enters the concept of the crisis. We’ve already been told in the first chapter that the Grundrisse is “a political text that conjugates an appreciation of the revolutionary possibilities created by the “imminent crisis” together with the theoretical will to adequately synthesize the communist actions of the working class with this crisis.” (8) We have even been introduced to a particular form of crisis at the end of the fourth chapter, the crisis that “the realization of capital becomes more difficult to the extent that it has already been realized.” (83) However, it is within this chapter, “Profit, Crisis, Catastrophe”, that crisis comes to a head as the subject of conversation.

This focus on crisis brings about a remarkable interpretation of the “law of the tendency of the profit rate to decline”. Negri’s use of that concept involves a radical shift of its meaning from its traditional uses. Traditionally, the theory of profit has been one that has been presented within a remarkably objectified form; a form read through a particular interpretation of Marx’s Capital, one that doesn’t explicitly underline the “organic composition of capital” with the “quantities defined by surplus value”. (101) This interpretation Marx as presenting a world of iron laws, a particularly Ricardian world, one that has an objectified, Borg-like quality. It is seen as a quality that has its objective conditions within capital itself. It’s one that either bores one to tears at best, or inspires a certain terror at worst. This traditional interpretation “eliminates the class struggle as a fundamental and rigid variable of the theory.” (101) The interpretation has a validity on the level of scriptural authenticity. It loses that validity when we enter the realm of political praxis.

At this point Negri enters. His interpretation of Marxism reappropriates the theory of profit within the terms of the class struggle and political subjectivity. This is an interpretation that reads the theory of profit through the Grundrisse and its explicit tie of the concept of profit to the concept of exploitation in the form of surplus value rather than through Capital. It pushes the question of politics back into the space that has been evacuated i.e. into subjectivity. It returns a form of subjectivity to the heart of the Marxian project that has been suppressed by the high priests of diamat. This occurs precisely because this reading would expose the exploitation that exists at the heart of their system, the so-called world of “actually existing socialism”, as well as the reform project at the heart of the remnants of the Second International.

Underlying this return to working class subjectivity and the whole problematic of Marx beyond Marx is a problematic that has found itself as an undercurrent of Marxian thought. Coming in fits and starts, discontinuous and highly differentiated, a path can be drawn from the critiques of Lenin by Luxemburg, the critiques presented by the POUM during the Spanish Civil War, the revolts of Hungary, Germany, and Czechoslovakia as well as the revolts in Western Europe. In short, a conceptualization of a Marxism that finds its power in the subjectivity of the masses/collective worker/multitude themselves rather than in an intellectual avant-garde capable of interpreting the laws of capital. This “subjective” perspective that follows the critique of Andres Nin, who points out that one should not lay the map of Russia onto Spain. Or to put in the terms of Althusser. “There are nothing but exceptions.”

But before I overwhelm myself with too ecstatic a vision, I will lay out the structure of my argument around the theory of profit. It’s necessary to lay out a definition of profit itself, and it’s function within the conceptualization of surplus value. This will lead into a presentation of the exacerbation of the tensions that are implicit within the theory of surplus value. It’s precisely at this point that we can return to the issue of the law of profit properly. More precisely, we can look at the framework of the law in terms of the subjectivity and class hatred of the proletariat emphasized by Negri.

But let’s move into the concept of profit. Negri points out that the theory of profit within the Grundrisse has been frequently criticized. “Rosdolsky has noted how in the section on the process of production the expressions “rate of profit” and “rate of surplus value” are not rigorously distinguished from each other and even seem identical at times.” (89) But Negri points out that there is a certain reasonableness to this overlap in that profit is nothing but a particular form of surplus value.

But profit is not surplus value itself as Marx points out: a situation can exist where the rate of profit becomes lower while the amount of surplus value increases. This can be seen to be explicitly tied in with the use of machinery. Marx shows on pages 383-4 of the Grundrisse an operation of value in two examples. The first involves a higher degree of labor with a low expenditure of capital for machinery. The second involves an operation with a higher expenditure of capital into machinery and less labor time expended. The rate of surplus value is higher in the second example despite its rate of profit being lower. Also it has a greater overall surplus value. The machinery leads to a greater degree of exploitation of the labor involved. The lowered profit rate deals with the increased capital expenditure. However the increase rate of production leads to the increased surplus value overall.

So what is the particular function of profit as a form of surplus value? Negri lays this out in the following paragraph on page 90. “Profit is the consolidation and fixation of surplus value, it is non-multiplying labor consolidated in a stable form, the theft of the productivity of labor, the indifference to living labor. But the distinction does not touch the nature of the exploitation: both surplus value and profit are based on the subjugation of living labor—but in the case of surplus value living labor is considered within the production relation, while in the case of profit it is set against the conditions of production, to the totality of accumulation.”

Profit thus acts as an “expansion, and extension to a social level of the antagonism implicit within the law of surplus value.” (91) There is something particularly naked about the form of exploitation that profit takes. It is disconnected from the relations of production. It doesn’t represent the need for new machinery or the expansion of production; rather it represents the social level of exploitation within the society and nothing more. Profit has no real form of legitimization, other than in terms of force.

Profit is therefore the form of surplus value par excellence. “Profit begins to concretize not only as the sum of surplus values and as the equalization of individual profits, but also as a political force, as a pole of social antagonism—political at this stage, but slowly ever more charged with reality.” (93) Profit is the act of capital separating itself from living labor. Once again within this concept we can see a particularly Negrian reading of the Grundrisse in this reading of “profit”: a pushing forward of all forms of antagonism to their breaking point.

Capital separates itself, creates its own logic, valorization, etc. “A capital of a certain value produces in a certain period of time a certain surplus value. Surplus value thus measured by the value of the presupposed capital, capital thus posited as a self-realizing value—is profit; regarded not sub specie aeternitiatis, but sub specie capitalis, the surplus value is profit; and capital as capital, the producing and reproducing value, distinguishes itself within itself from itself as profit, the newly produced value. The product of capital is profit.” (Marx 746)

But this separation allows for a new subjectivity, the autonomy of labor, the opposition of the time of capital, the interchangableness of things and their appropriation with the time of labor, that which can only be exchanged through its alienation and exploitation. “The more labor is objectified into capital and capital is increased; in other words, the more labor and productivity have become capital, all the more living labor opposes this growth in an antagonistic fashion. The more capital posits itself as profit-creating power, as a source of wealth which is independent from labor (and in so doing represents each of its constitutive parts as being uniformly productive)” (90) the more we can see an antagonist response on the part of labor.

It is at this point in the argument that we reenter the territory of the law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, but this time we will enter it on the terms of the class struggle. “The law of the rate of profit is a double one: on the one hand it exposes the tendency capital has to subsume more and more the conditions determined in the production process and made social in the circulation process; which is to say the tendency of capital to an ever more definitive appropriation of these conditions, as well as to the transformation of surplus value into a factor of profit. On the other hand it reveals the new antagonism which is determined by the development of profit from surplus value to social surplus value (profit), from capital to social capital. The simultaneously progressive and destructive sign, of which the law of profit is the bearer, is determined by its relations with living labor.” (91)

To put this in blunt terms, the tendency of the rate of profit to fall is explicitly linked with the subjective political pressures that the working class brings to bear on the situation. The old cliché about German beer drinkers and French wine consumers can be brought in again. Or to put it more precisely, the rate of social reproduction is defined within the terms of the class struggle. The crisis occurs within the pushing forward of this struggle, in the demand for more time outside of the time of capital.

This revolt of living labor against profit takes many forms. There are its most obvious forms in the strike, the barricades, and the union. But this revolt can be seen within the call for the reduction in working hours. This reform has implicit within it a radical shift in subjectivity, a call for time outside of the production of capital, where labor is allowed to engage in projects geared towards its own subjectivity and use value. These tasks include education, culture, and the ability to supply those needs to the worker’s children.

Working class revolt also takes the form of denigration of the bourgeoisie. The capitalist is presented as the highest form of parasite within republicanism, the aristocrat. The attack on profit can be most explicitly seen in those comparisons of the bourgeoisie to the lazy and opulent aristocracy of the past. To put it in its most extreme terms, there can only be one solution for the bourgeois aristocracy within this form of social Jacobinism—off with its head.

But this revolt of labor also takes other very explicit forms within the class struggle, in acts of sabotage. One can see it in the acts of English workers throwing their wooden shoes into the guts of the machinery at the beginning of the industrial revolution—the very namesake of the term sabotage. But one can also see revolt in more subtle forms, such as absenteeism, loafing, etc. Although these forms are not necessarily recognized as forms of revolt, they are, in an explicit manner, ways of changing the time of surplus value into the time of “non-work.” To make this concept personal and local, time on the clock can be used, for example, to eat a meal or return videotapes.

Such forms of revolt bring a particularly cogency to Negri’s concept in the following sentence. “The tendency to the fall in the profit rate bespeaks the revolt of living labor against the power of profit and its very separate constitution; a revolt against the theft and its fixation into a productive force for the capitalist against the productive force of the worker, into the power of social capital against the vitality of social labor: because of this living labor reveals itself as destructive.” (91) It’s precisely in those forms that Marxists all too often ignore that a particularly important type of revolt occurs. A type of revolt that slowly gnaws away at the profit rate of capital.

Negri shows the consequences of pushing this revolt of living labor to its very limits: “Let’s imagine that at a certain stage of the development of the development of the class struggle, the rigidity of the proletarian front induces a stagnation and/or fall of profit. Let’s imagine that this situation lasts for a while and that the extension of class resistance is socially homogenous. Now, on this terrain, we will have not only a decrease of the profit rate, but also a decrease of its sum. The last twenty years of class struggle in the advanced capitalist countries prove to us that the situation just described is not unrealistic.”

But before we become too self-congratulatory, we must also recognize that these modes of class struggle take much less attractive forms. Class struggle has taken the form of the revolt against any number of shibboleths from Jews, “intellectuals”, homosexuals, to communists themselves. The aristocracy that is described above has often been translated into a gay aristocracy, a Jewish aristocracy, etc. Not all of the forms discussed above are necessarily productive political acts. After all, one of the oldest forms of revolt in rejection of work is drinking. Certainly this is detrimental to capital, but it also is amazingly destructive to workers themselves, from accidents to many other of the effects that this has on workers’ families.

Also capital has shown that each of these modes are fully recoupable to capital. The best example I can think of is the case of education. What began as an attempt on the part of workers to create a cultural space that is distinctly theirs has by in large been enveloped within the need for “continuing education” that Deleuze describes in “Control and Becoming.” Every attempt to create spaces on the part of workers has proven itself to be eventually productive for capital.

But at the same time the contradiction becomes more and more explosive at every attempt at mediation. At the same time, many activists and academics who are sympathetic cannot recognize the new forms of revolt, in part because they see revolt only in old forms and in part because they want to present the conflict between capital and labor as a Manichean one. But the conflict doesn’t work that way; workers are not pious, and capital only wears horns when it is profitable. One would be better to think of it within Deleuze’s term of “lines of flight.” Instead of a dialectic of good and evil, we have a multitude of lines of flight, some times individually, sometimes collectively. At the same time, capital continually tries to contain those lines and use the energy for its own use.

This movement in commenting on the last twenty years of the class struggle is precisely the valorization of the political struggles mentioned at the outset of the paper: namely against the fixed Fordist mode of production, with all of its compromises and reification. This struggle can be seen both in the revolts that occur in the “Paris, Rome and Berlin” of 1968 and beyond and the uprisings in Hungary, the German Democratic Republic and Czechoslovakia. It is the revolutionary subjectivity that allows us to be brought to our present moment, the moment of Empire.

In effect, crisis-class struggle moves into a new terrain, catastrophe-revolution. At each moment of crisis, the reconstitution of capital pushes towards greater and greater crises. “To really overcome, to avoid the crisis: this is what capital cannot do.” (96) Every reconstitution of capital produces more and more explosive contradictions, new possibilities for revolutionary subjectivity.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

On the Debate over "UAW 2865 is Anti-Democratic"

       There was a recent kerfuffle on the Santa Cruz Academic Workers for an Democratic Union website recently in response to a posting by my friend and colleague, Sara Smith.  The dispute arose because a member of the leadership of the union (now calling themselves the 'Social and Economic Justice Caucus', but largely known as an extension of the UAW's larger administration caucus) posted a series of responses anonymously.  My intention is to read those responses symptomatically, revealing the reductionist and problematic approach that the official leadership take to questions of collectivity, democracy, politics, and procedure.  But before I begin that analysis, I thought I would offer a brief summary of Smith's argument.
          In her critique of the procedures of the union, Smith largely makes two claims about the union.  1.  The power of the president to temporarily appoint officers throughout the union, which was initially introduced as a stop gap measure to fill offices at moments of crisis (most notably during contract bargaining, in order to give the union a better bargaining position) is being used to make decisions about who will take leadership positions in the union without democratic elections.  2.  The structures of the dissemination of information disallow the elected officers of from communicating with the membership without going through the central office, in effect creating an ultra-centralist approach to organizational structure, giving the central office an effective veto on all forms of communication, but more significantly, making it very difficult for the elected leadership of the various campuses to communicate with their rank and file in a fast and efficient manner. The essence of the critique is summarized effectively by Smith in her first rebuttal, "Finally, on the contrary, I think my views on what a truly democratic union looks like are very clear. What I’m opposed to is a version of democracy in which power is highly centralized, a version of democracy in which the top leadership *micro-manages* even the most mundane details of the union (creating a flyer, sending an email, ordering paper). I do in fact believe in a degree of autonomy for the campuses, rather than the rigidly centralized nature of our union as it currently exists."
       None of these critiques will seem terribly surprising if you have kept up with the debates within the union at all.  These critiques have been stated in a number of venues, including this one, and go back to larger debates that have gone on within a variety of counter-systemic movements.  The critique effectively demands that the formal aspects of representational democracy need to be taken seriously.  When these formal aspects are ignored, it is very easy for abuses to occur, effectively undercutting the ability for the rank and file of the organization to decide who is going to represent them, and to hold those representatives accountable.  The demand for more responsibility on the part of the local branches can largely be seen as a demand for a more federalist system, allowing for the branches to take a greater role in shaping the strategies of the union, creating a less centralized structure, and introducing a more dialectical approach between the central leadership and the leadership of the branches.  This would allow for the leadership of the branches to deal with the issues of their own rank and file in a more nuanced manner, and would additionally more directly connect the rank and file with representational structure of the union.
      This produced an immediate response from a member of the so-called Social and Economic Justice Caucus.  That response offered a critique of the technical interpretation of one of Smith's readings of the bylaws, but then largely fell into a mischaracterization of the argument.  The argument effectively collapses Smith's argument into a claim for campus autonomy, or perhaps more significantly, “everyone gets to do what they want,” creating a straw man argument.  More significantly, the definition of democracy that is offered is extremely limited, ignoring the question of institutional structures that Smith brings up in her critique.  If we accepted the narrative provided by anonymous, then there is equal access for all members to produce platforms and factions under the principle of free association.  But this narrative ignores the ways that the centralized structure of the union effectively limits these forms of horizontal communication, through limiting access to ways of communicating with each other, and by centralizing all forms of communication.  Moreover, it ignores the ways in which the democratic centralist structure of the organization is manipulated to mark the legitimacy of the leadership's agenda and to delegitimize and exclude what falls outside of it.  (Anyone who has been to a joint council meeting will understand the ways that Robert's Rules of Order are selectively enforced, for instance, or the secret meetings that often occur before a controversial decision amongst the leadership.)  Perhaps most significantly, the initial post constructs a binary approach to the question of organization, either one accepts the status quo or one supports rampant individualism.  This binarism goes hand in hand with the continual mischaracterization of the other arguments presented there.
        Before we move on, I think that it is also important to recognize that anonymous never recognizes the relationship between the top down structure of the union and the low participation within the structures of the union.  S/he refuses to recognize that an effective rank and file organization depends on the ability of those individuals to shape the decisions of the organization that they are in, to have a say, a way of making their labor meaningful.  Instead, one can simply instrumentally fill these positions as needed, effectively reinforcing the centralist structure of the union at the cost of democracy.  Additionally, s/he brings up mechanisms that ostensibly allow for the rank and file to act as a counter-power in the structure of the union, but these structures either are very difficult to use (when referring to referendum) or appeal to the very structures that reinforce the structures of leadership that are ostensibly being opposed.  Finally, the independence of the election committee has been put under question during the contract elections.  (At a more basic level, it's notable that we were inundated with emails from the leadership to support the contract, without any reference to the dissent both in the rank and file and on the bargaining committee itself.)
       The second set of debates are all to familiar if one has been involved in these conversation.  Anonymous brings up a series of incidents that have occurred during the conflict over the contract.  These primarily involve the use of provocative language and imagery to condemn and satirize the leadership, the structure of the union, and the process of bargaining and voting on the contract.  Anonymous uses these actions taken in a variety of contexts, often by individuals, to stand in for the behavior of the reform caucus as a whole.  S/he opposes this with the principled and restrained behavior of the leadership.  There are a couple significant problems with this.  First, there is an uncanny resonance between these claims and the university's claim for the need for civility, both are committed to neutralizing errant forms of speech in defense of some form of status quo.  (I think that some of these actions were problematic, tactically and ethically, but that is another conversation.)  More significantly, by making the debate about the conduct around the contract dispute a matter of speech acts, anonymous effectively erases the ways that the leadership shaped the contract process through small acts of repression of the opposition.  This occurred through excluding bargaining team members from important conversations, through limited communication of the bargaining process to the rank and file, and through the selective use of disciplinary actions to remove dissenting members from the bargaining process.  Additionally, the decorum of the caucus was dropped in closed door sessions, openly attacking dissenting members, and using divide and conquer techniques in one on one meetings and phone calls.  Why would the caucus members use photoshop when these mechanisms were available?
     I want to end this conversation responding to the last comment made by anonymous.  In response to Jessica's distaste for the rhetoric of the so-called social and economic justice caucus in her comment, “Frankly, ‘speaking with one voice’ is kind of creepy”, s/he states, "You see, it’s called COLLECTIVE bargaining for a reason. And that’s because, with collective bargaining, the workers do, in fact, speak with “one voice” to management. Otherwise, individual workers would be free to negotiate individual contracts. And in the labor movement, those individual contracts have historically been known as “yellow dog” contracts, and are typically used as a management ploy.
So the fact that Jessica finds this foundational principle of collective bargaining, that workers speak with “one voice”, to be “creepy” should tell people a lot about her true views on the labor movement, “militant” protestations notwithstanding."
      More than anything else in the conversation, we see the impoverished understanding of collectivity on the part of anonymous.  S/he immediately collapses the term 'collective' and unity, when 'unity' (or to speak as one voice) is only one approach to creating a collectivity, one that has tactical advantages within certain contexts (such as collective bargaining), but is repressive and anti-democratic when it is interpreted as the only approach to collectivity.  It's also notable that s/he once again slips back into binary logic, offering only the option of the present approach to bargaining or individual contracts, ignoring the demand for a different type of collective bargaining.  It's important to note that the ability to 'speak as one voice' when at the bargaining table only effectively works when an intense process of debate occurs within the union to establish our priorities.  The ability to 'speak with one voice' is a tactic made effective through this genuinely collective process.  It's also a process that needs to occur throughout the bargaining process to gauge the shifting views of that collectivity, mapping out where it is willing to compromise and where it is not.   In effect, s/he has put the process of collectivity on its head, interpreting the effect, ie the tactical creation of a 'unity at the bargaining table' for a cause, which must be understood as the process of a genuine participatory democracy.
      As a final note, people are expected to name themselves in the course of any discussion that occurs here.  I'm going to delete anonymous comments as I see fit.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Freud and Overdetermination

My initial attempt at working through Freud's concept of overdetermination.  Louis Althusser would eventually drew on this concept in his reading of Marx, and still remains one of the best ways of thinking through the complex structures that shape the world.  I'll probably write about that sometime soon.  

            Freud’s analysis of the symbolic system of dreams is heavily dependent upon contingency.  This is clear in one of the comments he makes earlier in the book, “I, on the contrary, am prepared to find that the same piece of content may conceal a different meaning when it occurs in various people or in various contexts.” (Freud 137)  Later in the book in Chapter 6, “The Dream-Work”, Freud begins to work out a way of analyzing this highly complex and contingent system by introducing the concepts of condensation, displacement, and overdetermination.  Although this system is vague at times, it seems that the concepts of condensation and displacement make up the material for over-determination, so I will begin by explaining the way that the two systems work to constitute dreams.  I will then look at the way that these two systems produce a complex system of over-determination.
            Condensation operates by combining a whole myriad of images into a smaller group of more comprehensible images.  As Freud points out, “Dreams are brief, meagre and laconic in comparison with the range and wealth of dream-thoughts.” (Freud 313)  In looking at any particular dream image, we find “the multiplicity connections arising from the former [the dream-image]. (Freud 326)  Throughout his various examples, Freud points out that the way that these images combine are not innocent ones.  Instead throughout his dreams he shows that the way that images combine act to avoid the direct implications of a wish, by either hiding it in a series of parallel images, or expressing it in a more subtle form, in the combination of the images themselves.[1]
            Displacement operates in complicity with condensation.  A point of condensation will frequently occur at a moment of displacement.  An image that represents a desire that is clearly repulsive to the dreamer will be replaced by a related image that will be “divorced from its context and consequently transformed into something extraneous.” (Freud 340).  In doing this, “Dream-displacement is one of the chief methods by which that distortion is achieved… We may assume, then, that dream-displacement comes about through the influence of the same censorship—that is, the censorship of endopsychic defence.” (Freud 343)
            These two systems come together to, in effect, form a system of overdetermination.  Freud at times describes this as a third separate system that operates beside the other two, but it seems to me that it is in fact the guiding principle of the other two.  Dreams become overdetermined by the system of condensation and displacement that occur within them.  The dream “must escape the censorship imposed by resistance”, and it does this by means of displacement.  Displacement in turn depends on condensation to displace that image with a complex series of images of lower psychical values.  This transforms the dream into a complex terrain of images, sometimes apparent, sometimes submerged that describe another series of dream-thoughts.
This is not a simple system.  Freud describes it in the following manner, “Not only are the elements of a dream determined by the dream-thoughts many times over, but the individual dream-thoughts are represented in the dream by several elements.  Associative paths lead from one element of the dream to several dream-thoughts, and from one dream-thought to several elements of the dream.  Thus a dream is not constructed by each individual dream-thought, or group of dream-thoughts finding (in abbreviated form) separate representation in the content in the dream—in the kind of way in which an electorate chooses parliamentary representatives; a dream is constructed, rather, by the whole mass of dream-thoughts being submitted to a sort of  manipulative process in which those elements which have the most numerous and strongest supports acquire the right to entry into the dream-content—in a manner analogous to election by scrutin de liste.  In the case of every dream which I have submitted to an analysis of this kind I have invariably found these same fundamental principles confirmed: the elements of the dream are constructed out of the whole mass of dream-thoughts and each one of those elements is shown to have been determined many times over in relation to the dream-thoughts.” (Freud 318)
In effect, the dream is not constructed on the basis on a simple one on one system of representation.  Instead, one finds complex knots of representation, where an element can tie into a series of dream-thoughts, and a dream thought can tie into a series of images.  What’s more, Freud notes early on, “I have already had on occasion to point out that it is in fact never possible to be sure that a dream has been completely interpreted.  Even if the solution seems satisfactory and without gaps, the possibility always remains that the dream may have yet another meaning. (Freud 313)
What’s more, it also necessary to take the dream into context with other dreams, which are in themselves as complex as the dream itself.  It is possible that there may be homologies, analogies, or parallels between these dreams that must be taken into account.  In short, the process of overdetermination quickly spills over any discrete boundaries, and puts us into the realm of continuous production.
However Freud introduces some tactical ideas to deals with the wealth of material.  “What appears in dreams, we might suppose, is not what is important in the dream-thoughts but what occurs in them several times over…  The ideas which are most important among the dream-thoughts will almost certainly be those which occur most often in them, since the different dream thoughts will, as it were, radiate out from them.”  It seems that Freud is, to borrow a term from Althusser, introducing a certain notion of fusion within the understanding of dreams.  The more an idea will be touched on within the dream, or series of dreams, the more significance it undoubtedly it has.  The manner that these knots of fusion are revealed is, needless to say, complex, but it is a way to begin analysis.
It is important to point out that within this discussion of the production of the dream, a number of important ideas have not been discussed.  The most significant of those the process of identification, and the way that the ego can be highly diffuse within the dream-work.  I should also note that Freud’s emphasis on censorship, and the production of contradictions based on the unconscious’ desire and preconscious’ censorship of those desires.  However, the complexity of the dream-work can say something complexity of the production of the subject itself.  The subject is always incomplete, always in the process of production, and never self-contained.  Within this process, Freud emphasizes the conflict that this productive process has conscious state of mind.  This I am not sure, but even if we reject the notion of an essentially repressive outside, the process overdetermination is still of value. 

[1] Freud’s dream of that combines his colleague with his uncle is the best example of this.