Bataille’s Critique of the Freudian Account of the Psyche

06/12/2021

[NOTE: I will note here that Bataille is never quoted, yet I say it is Bataille’s critique. What is happening here, and many other essays, is the implicit assertion that I am him… which I am. I remember this time in the summer, I was watching the “Invincible” series at this time I believe… What a good show]

Let us first go over some Freudian concepts. The pleasure principle causes pleasure to be defined as “the avoidance of unpleasure”.[1] Unpleasure is the accumulation of excitation and therefore pleasure is the loss of excitation. It is to be noted lastly that the realm of the unconscious is the realm of representation (e.g., repressed images of events maybe) and the conscious is the realm of affects.

For Freud, the psyche is a system (a libidinal economy) of charges and discharges. There is a charge of instinctual impulses (libidinal energy) and the discharge of it is called an ‘affect’. But according to Freud, the psyche must have its energy levels constant and this is called the principle of constancy. This principle of constancy is the regulating law of the libidinal economy that is the Freudian psyche, similar to how the law of value is, for Marx, the regulating law of political economy (Lyotard agrees with this latter comparison of Freud and Marx in his book Libidinal Economy).

For Bataille, the latter Freudian view of the psyche is nothing more than the psyche-as-restricted-economy. The Freudian psyche is always kept in equilibrium, it is always kept stable, the energy can never be expended too greatly. The Freudian psyche is also a utilitarian psyche in that it is “economically conservative”. Patrick ffrench explains that “[i]f Freud conceives of affective discharge as a result of the principle of constancy, for Bataille this view derives from a conservative principle for which such discharge is construed as an expenditure which will allow the organism to continue to function for other ends” [emphasis added].[2] Nick Land sorta also notes this too in The Thirst for Annihilation when he sees that “Freud seems to remain committed to the right of the reality principle, and its representative the ego, and thus to accept a survival (or adaptation) imperative as the principle of therapeutic practice. It is because of this basic prejudice against the claims of desire that psychoanalysis has always had a tendency to degenerate into a technology of repression that subtilizes, and therefore reinforces, the authority of the ego. In terms of both the reality principle and the conservative moment of psychoanalysis, desire is a negative pressure working against the conservation of life, a dangerous internal onslaught against the self, tending with inexorable force towards the immolation of the individual and his civilization” [emphasis mine].[3]

The main thing to be noted between the two critiques is that both Land and ffrench hold that psychoanalysis reinforces and perpetuates the ego, i.e. the subject. In this regard, psychoanalysis and the Freudian account of the psyche seems to presume the restricted economic perspective. Bataille, on the other hand, sees the psyche function as a general economy.

For Bataille, the psyche has “utility as a secondary derivation of a primary need for waste, or impulse to expenditure, affective discharge is to be construed as an end in itself, rather than a result of the principle of constancy of a regulated system,” of a restricted economy.[4] In this way, the psyche becomes a general economy, “a play of charge and discharge, a potlatch of instinct”.[5] Pleasure is also “an end in itself” for Bataille.[6]

Thus, ffrench concludes that “the Freudian account of the psyche is incompatible with the Bataillean thesis of expenditure”.[7]

Bibliography

ffrench, Patrick. After Bataille: Sacrifice, Exposure, Community. New York, NY: Modern Humanities Research Association and Routledge, 2007.

Land, Nick. The Thirst for Annihilation: Georges Bataille and Virulent Nihilism (an Essay in Atheistic Religion). London, UK: Routledge, 1992.

References

[1]: Patrick ffrench, After Bataille: Sacrifice, Exposure, Community (New York, NY: Modern Humanities Research Association and Routledge, 2007), 13.

[2]: Ibid.

[3]: Nick Land, The Thirst for Annihilation: Georges Bataille and Virulent Nihilism (an Essay in Atheistic Religion) (London, UK: Routledge, 1992), 46.

[4]: Patrick ffrench, After Bataille: Sacrifice, Exposure, Community (New York, NY: Modern Humanities Research Association and Routledge, 2007), 13.

[5]: Ibid., 14.

[6]: Ibid.

[7]: Ibid.

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How sweet terror is, not a single line, or a ray of morning sunlight fails to contain the sweetness of anguish. - Georges Bataille