October 17, l998 Week Two: Technologies of Memory and Transmission

Dear Colleagues,

At this point one might ask, what does seduction have to do with memory? And one might wonder if, in asking that question, we remain inside Freud’s universe or stage a type of departure from it? Freud himself is "seduced by an analogy" at the close of his "Constructions in analysis" when he likens the analyst’s "construction" to a "delusion." Has he staged his own departure here, or is his return to the fragment of "historical truth" (remember his use of this term in MOSES AND MONOTHEISM) a way of shoring up his argument against the scientist who challenges Freud to "prove" that the psychoanalytic method is nothing more than suggestion? Freud describes the various tools of the trade as he attempts to get beyond the threat of suggestion. In this description, he notes how slips of the tongue and other forms of disavowal often assist the attentive analyst even as he has to admit that transference (a type of seduction?) is a tool or technology working in the service of memory as well. But whose memory? Of what type of memory do we speak? A "real" event, or an errant or symbolic one? Is it belief and conviction rather than memory proper that Freud then seeks? Or has a penchant for polarities once again trumped our ability to seek the right modality of inquiry?

At the same time, we could ask, what does analogy have to do with memory? The analogy of the writing machine proves seductive for Freud as a model for the psychological apparatus in his "Mystic Writing Pad." Derrida is irresistibly seduced by this analogy, since he sees in Freud’s little essay a complex departure from the familiar understanding of writing as a tool or technology of memory: in Derrida’s transference, in sway of this seduction, the writing machine (the mystic writing pad, this two handed machine, one hand inscribing, the other lifting the sheet to erase without liquidating the trace) forms an homage to the trace, and a momentary glimpse of that which promises a departure from familiar (too seductive a term?) groundings of our Western metaphysics. We arrive again at a concern for the literal and its relationship to the literary and all that drags into that transfer, all that we might wish to call history as the complex nexus of experience, memory, event.

Here, too, we could ask, what does metaphor have to do with memory? Perhaps we are too drawn into our desire by positing the transfer of metaphor (and its seduction) as the vehicle or transport of memory’s exchange. To step outside a Western idea of memory (can those of us inside –who are they?--ever really do so), we might follow the path of Hortense Spillers as she chooses to read the constructions of analysts who themselves have chosen to be attentive to cultural differences. When Spillers asks what cultural analysis might then be, she puts into service a thought about what enables questioning itself. Turning on the "Fanonian abime" (713) [we pause to wonder at this phrase] she inquires about the efficacy of an "acquisition of a supplemental literacy, one that could be regarded as alien and for that very reason to be learned and pressed into service"(l73). By page 725, the heart of her inquiry emerges, in my view, as she considers the bewilderment engendered by her own process, her own choice of reading: it is nevertheless here in this strange world of "paraphrase" that she asks us to "hear" in "the stunning bafflement of one at pains to know why he suffers" that mode of address which most captures the ethical witness. "Is it thinkable that a Samba was raising, in the depths of his being, a question that his culture could not answer, even though the latter had opened the place of the question by giving it its props, its materiality?"

And in the Phantom text by Abraham, we are reminded of the sway of secrets, the secret effect, the burden of carrying over (transferring) another generation’s secrets into our own. Convinced that ghosts could haunt the psyche from a world "beyond" the model of repression so elaborated by Freud, Abraham dares to imagine another question concerning memory and its transmission. Have we entered the world of magical thinking here? In asking that question, do we show our credentials as Western skeptics? Have we arrived at the shore of a question our culture (what is that?) cannot host or answer? Or are we somehow floating on the terrible metaphor (the real trauma) of a middle passage?


See you soon, as we know, Tina.